Tumbling down the Eastern Conference standings and in danger of falling out of postseason contention, the Chicago Bulls (30-28) are expected to have point guard Derrick Rose back in action on Wednesday while shooting guard Jimmy Butler could return as early as next week.
Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg said Monday that Butler, who sprained his left knee and hasn’t played since Feb. 5’s loss to Denver, may return to practice as early as Friday and could be ready to play in Saturday's matchup with Houston.
Hoiberg says he's hopeful Butler will able to practice on Friday. Possibility of playing vs. Rockets on Saturday but doesn't sound likely.
— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) February 29, 2016
While the Bulls have tumbled in the standings, they are not expected to rush Butler back. Butler has proven to be Chicago's best scorer and perimeter defender this season, and another injury would severely jeopardize the Bulls' chances to contend.
The 26-year-old is on pace for a fifth-straight career season, averaging 22.4 points and 4.3 assists off 45.8 percent shooting. Chicago was in contention with Cleveland and Toronto atop the East before he went down.
Butler was originally expected to miss three-to-four weeks, so a return against Houston would fall on the earlier side of that projection.
Rose was in the midst of his healthiest season in three years, appearing in 48 of a possible 58 games, but he’s missed the last three games due to a hamstring injury. Over eight games in February, Rose averaged 21.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 6.0 assists—by far his best stretch of the season.
The former MVP reportedly practiced Monday in anticipation of Tuesday’s road matchup with Miami, but Rose is currently listed as a game-time decision.
"Derrick made it through a lot of practice," Hoiberg said according to the Chicago Sun-Times. "He’s feeling better. When I worked him out Saturday morning, he was in a lot of pain. [Sunday], he worked out again and he had less pain. [Monday] morning, he got a good warmup in, got a good workout before practice and participated in most of it. That’s a good sign, that he hasn’t had a setback after some good hard workouts."
Meanwhile, forward Nikola Mirotic is not expected to return for weeks after surgeries for an appendectomy and hematoma removal.