(The Sports Xchange) - The Chicago Bulls extended their winning streak to a season-high five games by defeating the Milwaukee Bucks 117-106 on Tuesday at the United Center.
The Bulls had dropped three of four games right around Christmas, leading to questions being asked about everything from their leadership to their effort.
"It wasn't anything I said or what anyone else said," Bulls guard Jimmy Butler said of the turnaround.
"It was what we said together as a team in the locker room that nobody knows. We got a real good team on paper, out there on the court, but if we don't play for one another, don't stick together, we're not a really good team."
Individually, Butler has been largely responsible for helping the Bulls (21-12) be a better team lately.
Coming off a 42-point performance, which included 40 points in the second half, against the Toronto Raptors on Sunday, Butler continued to have a hot hand against the Bucks.
He scored a game-high 32 points, including 20 points in the first half, and recorded a career-high 10 assists. He shot 11-for-21 from the field and 8-for-8 from the free-throw line.
"He's balling right now," Bulls point guard Derrick Rose said of Butler. "I'll keep going to him until he doesn't want the ball anymore."
The Bulls got going early as they jumped out to a 10-0 lead and never once trailed. Milwaukee cut the margin to one point twice in the game, but the Bucks (14-23) just could not find enough consistency on defense.
The Bulls shot 46-for-83 from the field (55.4 percent). The Bucks hit 46 of 102 shots (45.1 percent).
Bucks interim coach Joe Prunty thought there was plenty of blame to thrown around for his team's defensive struggles. Milwaukee fell to 5-16 on the road this season.
"Tonight, they just didn't miss many shots," Prunty said. "Part of it may have been we weren't good defensively. The reason was partly the effort we put into it. Some was our poor fundamentals. It was in our stance, missed assignments and not getting in the right scheme. It was on all of us tonight."
On the other hand, the Bulls were again pleased with their offense. They have scored 100-plus points in their past eight games.
Bulls center Pau Gasol had 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting, and he added 11 rebounds, five assists and three blocks. Rose had 16 points on 8-of-17 shooting, and he handed out six assists.
Bucks guard Khris Middleton scored a team-high 26 points on 10-of-21 shooting.
The Bucks pulled within striking distance and were only down 90-89 with 53 seconds remaining in the third quarter. However, the Bulls closed the quarter on a 5-0 run and outscored the Bucks 23-17 in the fourth quarter.
"Yes, we tried to contain the deficit," Parker said. "We were in it, but we got down more in the (fourth) quarter and could not come back."
The Bulls led by as many 13 points in the first quarter and held a 36-28 advantage after the opening 12 minutes. The Bucks fought back during the second quarter and pulled within 42-41, but the Bulls stretched their lead to 67-61 by halftime.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)