Jimmy Butler to return to Bulls' lineup Saturday vs. Rockets

CHICAGO --Chicago Bullsshooting guardJimmy Butler will play against the Houston Rockets on Saturday night, the All-Star's first game since suffering a left knee strain one month ago.

Butler has not played since Chicago's Feb. 5 loss to the Denver Nuggets, missing the Bulls' past 11 games. Chicago went 3-8 during that stretch.

"Jimmy's ready to go," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said after Saturday's shootaround. "He had a really good practice [Friday], came in this morning and made it through shootaround. So we'll monitor him throughout the day, but as of right now he's ready to go."

Butler's return to the starting lineup offers a huge boost to a Bulls team in desperate need of one. Chicago enters Saturday's contest having lost four straight and sitting outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture with a 30-30 record.

Butler, the Bulls' best two-way player, will start the game guarding Rockets All-Star James Harden, Hoiberg said.

"Jimmy wants to play 48 minutes," Hoiberg said. "I told him that's probably not realistic. But he wanted to get himself ready to go and to not have any restrictions. So we'll see how he is. Obviously conditioning's going to play a factor with how he's feeling, but he's a competitor, he's a warrior and I know everybody in this organization is excited to have him back on the floor."

The good news on the injury front didn't stop there for the Bulls. Power forward Taj Gibson said he would play Saturday after missing Wednesday's loss to the Orlando Magic because of a right hamstring injury. Gibson suffered the injury during Tuesday's loss to the Miami Heat.

"I'm going to play," Gibson said. "A couple days of just some rest, but we'll see how it goes going out there. No time for worrying about injuries right now. Just got to try to get wins."

Hoiberg also said big man Nikola Mirotic is "close" as he continues to recover from complications related to an appendectomy.

"Niko's close," Hoiberg said. "He made it through a full practice [Friday] as well. He wasn't going to do a lot of the contact, but he stayed in there. He took a hit, he took a charge and it was great to see. He felt really good this morning, so Niko's close to getting back as well."

Mirotic, who has been out since Jan. 28, was listed as doubtful on the Bulls' injury report in advance of Saturday's game. Hoiberg affirmed that "as of right now" that remains the same after Saturday's shootaround.

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