SAN ANTONIO – The Chicago Bulls have won back-to-back games to put themselves back into playoff position in the Eastern Conference but are staring at a nearly impossible task.
The Bulls on Thursday will try to make it three consecutive wins when they visit the San Antonio Spurs, who have yet to fall at home this season.
Chicago got a boost on Saturday from the return of All-Star guard Jimmy Butler and picked up a 108-100 win over the Houston Rockets, but he was out again on Monday as the Bulls worked their way around the Milwaukee Bucks.
Butler sat out a month with a left knee injury and found that same knee swollen on Sunday after going for 24 points, 11 rebounds and six assists in his return against the Rockets. Chicago could use Butler on the defensive end to help out against Spurs All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard, who scored 15 points in 25 minutes on Tuesday as San Antonio bounced back from a rare loss by crushing the Minnesota Timberwolves 116-91 to close out the two-game road trip at 1-1.
The Spurs gave veterans Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker the night off against the Timberwolves and expect to have all three back on Thursday as they attempt to improve to 31-0 at home.
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ABOUT THE BULLS (32-30): Chicago went 3-8 in the 11 games Butler sat out after leaving a game at Denver on Feb. 5 on a stretcher due to the knee injury, and the team is making sure everything is secure before putting him back on the court.
“Unfortunately what happens sometimes in these situations is he got a little bit of swelling in it,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg explained to reporters. “Again, feels much better (Tuesday). It doesn't look like there's anything structurally wrong with the knee and we'll see how he is these next couple days leading into Thursday."
Pau Gasol picked up the slack against the Bucks on Monday while collecting 12 points, 17 rebounds, 13 assists and five blocks in the 100-90 win.
ABOUT THE SPURS (54-10): San Antonio played 11 of its last 13 games on the road and finally gets a stretch of games in its own building, though the opposition won’t be easy. The Spurs will face five winning teams on the five-game homestand, including the Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors. All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge will help Leonard guide the team through that stretch and has scored at least 23 points in each of his last five games, including 29 on 11-of-13 shooting on Tuesday.
1. Bulls F Mike Dunleavy is 10-of-17 from 3-point range in the last four games.
2. Parker (toe) is 4-of-17 from the floor in his last three games.
3. Butler scored 14 points in Chicago’s 92-89 home win over San Antonio on Nov. 30.