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[January 09, 2017]
Chicago Bulls swingman Jimmy
Butler is pushing himself into the MVP discussion with his play of
late while Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook has been in
that debate since the start of the season. The two will square off
against each other when the Bulls host the Thunder on Monday.
Butler is averaging 34.2 points in the last six games and led
Chicago to wins over the top two teams in the Eastern Conference -
Cleveland and Toronto - in the last two games. "He's playing as good
as anybody in the league right now," Bulls guard Dwyane Wade told
ESPN.com. "What he's doing in the fourth quarter is even more
impressive than the stat line at the end of the day. That stat line
is amazing, but everybody knows we're going to Jimmy. And to still
be able to make those plays, it's incredible." Westbrook is pretty
strong in the fourth quarter as well and is adding 3-point shooting
to his triple-double barrage of late. "When he gets a couple in a
row, I think you have to let him maybe take a couple more that may
look highly contested or difficult, because he can make them,"
Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan told reporters after Westbrook
went 7-of-12 from 3-point range during his 17th triple-double on
TV: 8 p.m. ET, FSN Oklahoma, CSN Chicago
ABOUT THE THUNDER (22-16): Westbrook is a career 30.7 percent
shooter from 3-point range and went 4-of-22 from beyond the arc in
the first two games this month before exploding over the last two
contests. The star guard knocked down 8-of-15 from beyond the arc in
a loss at Houston on Thursday and pulled Oklahoma City out of a
three-game funk with his 32 points, 17 rebounds and 11 assists in
the return home on Saturday. "I totally trust him because he studies
the game, he really, really wants to win and I'd say this: When he's
got it going like he did in Houston and (Saturday), I want him to
heat-check a few times," Donovan told reporters. "I don't think
there's a problem in him doing that."
[to top of second column]
THE BULLS (19-18): Butler scored 14 of his 20 points in the fourth
quarter during Wednesday's win at Cleveland and piled up 42 points,
10 rebounds and five assists against the Raptors on Saturday. Butler
is averaging 6.8 assists in the last four games - a stretch that
coincides with the team benching point guard Rajon Rondo. "This
stretch that (Butler's) got going right now, he continues to add to
his game," Chicago coach Fred Hoiberg told reporters. "He's really
playing with the ball in his hands a lot now ... he's just pretty
much straight up our point guard for a lot of the games right now.
And he's obviously been phenomenal."
1. Bulls reserve SF Doug McDermott scored in double figures in five
straight games and is coming off a 17-point, 10-rebound
double-double on Saturday.
2. Thunder SG Victor Oladipo is averaging 16.6 points in five games
since returning from a wrist injury.
3. Chicago took both meetings last season by an average of 7.5
PREDICTION: Thunder 115, Bulls 109
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