NEW ORLEANS, La. (AP) — Jimmy Butler defied any inclination to give in to fatigue, and the rest of the Chicago Bulls followed suit with the kind of performance that left little doubt about their desire to make the playoffs.
Taking the court on the Gulf Coast one night after a narrow victory on the shores of Lake Michigan, Butler poured in 39 points to lead Chicago to a 117-110 win over the recently resurgent New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday.
“I just want to win. I think my will to do that is going to overcome all the fatigue,” Butler said. “At this time of the year, everybody’s tired, everybody’s nicked up. But when you have mental toughness, you overcome all that.”
Butler made 14 of 26 shots, including all three of his 3-point shots, to help the Bulls win for the fifth time in six games. The All-Star guard’s final points came on a step-back jumper with 20 seconds left to stem a late Pelicans run.
Chicago took sole possession of seventh in the Eastern Conference after beating a Pelicans squad that came in having won eight of 11 and six straight at home.
Chicago coach Fred Hoiberg marveled at the way Butler was “just shooting from all over the floor, the rhythm that he had going … just rising up and shooting it like there is nobody else in the gym.”
“It was a great performance to get us going, get us a nice lead at halftime, and hold out down the stretch.”
Butler hit nine of his first 11 shots and it didn’t seem to matter who guarded him. He made everything from a short step-back fade over the 6-foot-11 Davis to decisive mid-range jumpers coming off of screens and a pair of 3s in the first half, when he had 25 points.
“He made some tough shots, shots off one leg, turnarounds, contested,” said Pelicans forward Anthony Davis, who had 30 points and 11 rebounds. “I think they played a little harder than us and it showed with the offensive rebounds, with the 50-50 balls.”
Bobby Portis, who finished with 21 points, hit six of his first seven shots. His and Butler’s accuracy helped Chicago shoot nearly 57 percent during the first half. The Bulls led by as many as 19 in the second quarter before going into the halftime up 63-47.
Chicago still led by 13 with less than three minutes left, but New Orleans quickly got as close as six when Davis’ jumper capped a 7-0 run that began with Jrue Holiday’s 3.
However, New Orleans missed a chance to get closer when Paul Zipser blocked Holiday’s transition layup with 36 seconds left. Butler then drained his final basket, a 20-footer over Holiday from the right side, to help the Bulls close it out comfortably.
Bulls: Joffrey Lauvergne scored 15 points, while Rajon Rondo added 10 points, nine assists, nine rebounds and three steals. … The Bulls finished with a 14-2 advantage in second-chance points. … Chicago has hit at least 10 3s in each of its past seven games. … The Bulls have won six straight against the Pelicans and Hoiberg improved to 4-0 against New Orleans.
Pelicans: DeMarcus Cousins added 26 points and 18 rebounds, while Holiday finished with 17 points and reserve Jordan Crawford had 15. … New Orleans made a season-high 34 free throws on 35 attempts. … Crawford has scored 10 or more points in 13 of the 14 games he has played for the Pelicans, but went 1 of 6 on 3s against Chicago after entering the game shooting about 45 percent from deep.
Chicago finished shooting 48.9 percent (45 of 92) for the game, including 13 of 26 from 3-point range.
“We really shared the ball and it was a nice game to watch,” said Lauvergne, who made three 3-pointers.
“Everybody was making shots, man,” added Butler. “When everybody’s attacking and getting it to the open guy, everybody’s going to get open shots.”
Butler said he likes the way the Bulls have come together since he and guard Dwyane Wade said in late January that it looked like some of them didn’t care enough about winning.
“I don’t regret anything,” Butler said when asked to revisit the locker-room criticism. “Everybody’s just fine right now. We’re winning. We’re in a good place. … We don’t talk about it. Everybody’s playing their role. Everybody’s doing what they’re supposed to do. That’s all you can ask.”
Bulls: Visit New York on Tuesday night.
Pelicans: Host Denver on Tuesday night.