One night after scoring a game-high 33 points in 42 minutes and hitting the two clinching free throws with 2.1 seconds left in a two-point victory over Atlanta, the tireless Butler did it again, scoring 25 of his game-high 39 points in the first half and logging a team-high 39 minutes to power the Chicago Bulls to a 117-110 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday at the Smoothie King Center.
"Yeah, I'm dialed in," Butler said after leading Chicago (38-39) to its fourth straight victory and fifth in six games. "I think I'm rolling and playing well and doing what my team needs me to do, and we're winning, so at the end of the day, that's all that matters."
Butler scored 25 points in the second half against the Hawks on Saturday, including the Bulls' final nine points. He showed no signs of weariness on the second game of a back-to-back, torching the Pelicans for 25 points in the first half on 9-of-11 shooting.
In the second quarter, when the Bulls outscored the Pelicans 35-26 to take a 63-47 halftime lead, Butler made all five of his shots, including two from long range. In the final 4:28 of the quarter, Butler made a pair of 3-pointers and two 20-footers.
"Shoot the ball when you're open, sometimes a heat check, like I tell everybody else," Butler said, smiling. "Everybody was attacking and getting the ball to the open guy, and everybody's going to get open shots."
The victory, coupled with losses by four teams closest to them in the Eastern Conference playoff race, moved the seventh-place Bulls within one game of No. 6 Atlanta (39-38) and within two games of No. 5 Milwaukee (40-37). The Miami Heat (37-40) and Indiana Pacers (37-40) are each a game behind the Bulls.
"We just continue to talk about this with our team -- we'll just worry about ourselves," said Chicago coach Fred Hoiberg. "Every day we have to get in the gym, get in the film room, continue to learn and continue to make positive strides forward as a basketball team."
Butler was 14 of 26 from the floor and added six rebounds and five assists. Bobby Portis scored 21 off the bench for Chicago, which posted its sixth consecutive victory over the Pelicans (33-44). Hoiberg marveled at Butler's relentless energy.
"That second quarter was unbelievable, what he was doing out there, to shoot the ball from the floor, the rhythm he had going," Hoiberg said. "I thought our guys did a great job finding him. He was rising up and shooting it like there was nobody else in the gym."
The loss virtually extinguished the Pelicans' playoff hopes. They are 5 1/2 games behind Portland (38-38) for the eighth playoff spot in the West. The Trail Blazers could eliminate New Orleans with a victory over Minnesota on Monday.
"You get down 19, 20 points, and it's just such an uphill battle," New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said. "You've got to have the perfect storm. ... Jimmy Butler started out great shooting the ball exceptionally well."
The Bulls used a 10-2 run to start the final quarter -- capped by back-to-back 3-pointers by Joffrey Lauvergne and Denzel Valentine -- to extend their lead to 97-81 with 9:36 left. The Pelicans drew within 113-107 with under a minute left but got no closer.
"They made a lot of shots," Davis said. "Solo (Hill), Jrue (Holiday), all those guys did a good job on Jimmy Butler, but he did a great job making some shots off one leg, turnarounds (that were) contested. It was good defense but better offense."
NOTES: New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said the Pelicans' better play at home is a result of PF Anthony Davis and C DeMarcus Cousins getting more comfortable with each other. "You've got a home-court advantage when you play well at home," Gentry said. "We're also figuring each other out. This thing is a process." ... Gentry expect Davis to improve his long-range jumper with a healthy summer to work on it. "I don't think he's shot it as well as he's capable of doing," Gentry said. "He'll be a mid-30s (percent) 3-point shooter, and if he can get to that, that'll be more than enough." ... Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said PG Rajon Rondo "has been great for us since we put him back in the starting lineup with Niko (Mirotic) and trying to get us off to good starts."