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Butler shines in reserve role

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CHICAGO – A return to the Bulls’ second unit did little to slow Jimmy Butler’s momentum Monday.

Butler, 23, came off of the bench to lead the Bulls with 19 points and six rebounds in a 93-85 win against the Charlotte Bobcats. Butler’s 19 points set a career high and marked the third time in the past six games that he has either set or tied his career high in points.

This time, Butler’s success came as a backup to veteran starter Luol Deng. Butler had started the previous five games in place of Deng, who was out of the lineup because of an injured hamstring.

Butler said his recent success boosted his confidence.

“It’s growing as we have more success as a team,” Butler said. “I feel like this team, we’re always together in every aspect. When I score 19, it’s not just me. My teammates are helping me.”

The Bulls bench could help the team as the season’s second half approaches, Butler said. Fellow second-unit player Nate Robinson scored 15 points against the Bobcats, while Taj Gibson scored seven points to go with seven rebounds and Marco Belinelli added four points.

“I like this bench,” Butler said. “We bring a lot of things to the table: Defense, shooting, attacking the basket, rebounding. There’s a lot of key pieces.”

Reaching out: Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said he reached out to Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo after learning that Rondo had torn his ACL and was out for the season.

“It’s tough,” Thibodeau, who served as a Celtics assistant coach from 2007 to 2010. “You hate to see anyone go down with an injury. I had the opportunity to coach him. He’s a great kid. He’s really grown. He’s become, in my eyes, a superstar in this league.

“He’s a tough kid. He’ll overcome it and put the work in. But you hate to see it.”

Still grateful: Mike Dunlap was an assistant coach with the Denver Nuggets in 2008 when the Bulls called to interview him for their head-coaching vacancy.

“I’m surprised to hear from my wife, let alone the Bulls,” Dunlap joked Monday.

Dunlap didn’t get the job. But four years later, the Bobcats hired him to lead their team.

Without his Bulls interview, Dunlap said, he might never have received the chance to coach the Bobcats. He said Bulls executive vice president John Paxson and others conducted a three-hour interview that included long sessions in front of a dry-erase board.

“It was a good experience,” Dunlap said. “ ‘Pax’ and crew really put me through the paces on the white board. It was a precursor for the interview with Charlotte because I knew what to expect.”

Bulls bits: The Bulls blocked a season-high 14 shots against the Bobcats. Joakim Noah led the team with five blocked shots, while 5-foot-9 guard Nate Robinson added three blocks. … The Bulls improved to 18-4 this season when holding opponents to less than 90 points.

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