Jimmy Butler needed just 34 minutes to prove he was ready to lead Chicago’s charge into the post season.
A sprained left knee has forced Butler to miss the previous 11 games and in his first game back, he had the difficult task of trying to slow down Rockets guard James Harden.
While the NBA’s leader in total points scored managed to inflict plenty of damage on the Bulls — totaling 36 points, eight assists and five rebounds, Butler provided an ample amount of resistance.
The two All-Star shooting guards were matched up against each other for a total of 10 plays Saturday night, resulting in six points from Harden.
Harden also needed six shot attempts to reach the total, as he found difficulty even hanging onto the ball.
In 30 percent of the possessions when Harden was being defended by Butler, he turned the ball over, and managed to convert just 33.3 percent of his attempts from the field.
Simply by stymieing Harden, Butler was able to hoist Chicago back into the playoff picture. Saturday’s 108-100 victory moved the Bulls half a game ahead of Detroit for the final playoff seed in the Eastern Conference.
Along with his defensive prowess, Butler provided a much needed scoring impact to the Bulls offense.
The 6-foot-7 shooting guard poured in 24 points, as he earned 12 trips to the foul line, to go along with 11 rebounds, six assists and a steal during his first appearance in four weeks.
With Butler sidelined, the Bulls struggled to stay afloat, suffering a pair of four game losing streaks, slipping from fourth to ninth in the jumbled Eastern Conference playoff race.
Despite his lengthy absence, Butler still managed to retain the team lead in points scored, free throws made and steals.
Failure to qualify for the post season would result in a disastrous season for a team expected to challenge Cleveland for the conference title, but with Butler back in the mix, the Bulls are poised for an interesting conclusion to the year.
Biggest Surprise: Alex Len– Phoenix Suns
The tail end of the fantasy basketball season has served as a perfect time for Len to carry the Suns offense. The fifth overall pick of the 2013 NBA Draft has strung together four consecutive double-double performances, averaging 20.8 points, 14 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. Friday in Orlando, the Suns continually fed the ball into the post, fully expecting Len to deliver. The results were staggering, as he poured in a season-high 31 points on 22 shot attempts, carrying Phoenix to just its second victory in its past 17 games.
Biggest Disappointment: Rudy Gay– Sacramento Kings
A sprained shoulder forced Gay to miss consecutive games against Oklahoma City and Memphis earlier this week, but in 70 minutes on the floor since, he has produced little. Gay was held to nine points in each of his past two outings. Saturday in San Antonio, Gay was essentially an afterthought, as three players off the bench took more shots from the field than him. The Kings will need a strong performance to close out the year from Gay to make up the 4.5 games on Houston to qualify for the post season.
Pick ’em Up: Mario Chalmers– Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies are lining up Chalmers alongside point guard Mike Conley, allowing him to attack on the defensive end of the floor. The result was five steals against Utah Friday night, matching a season-high. Chalmers has recorded 13 steals in his last four games, providing steady production in the most unpredictable category in fantasy basketball. If Memphis provides consistent playing time, Chalmers is a must-own player.
Put ’em Down: Jared Dudley– Washington Wizards
The Wizards rotation is simply limiting the amount of time Dudley is spending on the floor. Even though he has evolved into a 3-point marksman during his first season in Washington, converting 45.5 percent of his attempts from the field (fourth best in the NBA), the addition of Markieff Morris has allowed Dudley to spend 22 minutes or fewer in each of his last five games. Since the All-Star break, Dudley’s minutes have slipped by six a night and his 3-point shooting percentage has declined by five percent.
Injury Watch: Eric Gordon– New Orleans Pelicans
A fractured ring finger on Gordon’s right hand, his shooting hand, kept him out for 16 games. His return lasted just four games, as Gordon re-fractured the same finger Saturday night following a collision with Jazz center Rudy Gobert. With New Orleans 6.5 games behind Houston for the final playoff berth in the Wester Conference, the Pelicans are likely to shut down their shooting guard for the rest of the season.
Stat of the Week: DeMar DeRozan– Toronto Raptors
There is little mystery to DeRozan’s game, as he is seeking to attack the rim nearly every time he touches the ball. Nearly 12 times a night, the most in the league, DeRozan is driving to the basket. By continually pressuring opposing defenses, the two-time All-Star has excelled at drawing fouls, earning 511 trips to the foul line, the third most in the NBA. Friday against the Trail Blazers, DeRozan managed to capitalize, converting 25-of-26 free throw attempts. The former Southern California star became the first player since Michael Jordan in 1987 to convert 96 percent of his free throw attempts in a single game while shooting at least 25 times.