CHICAGO • The Chicago Bulls were heading the wrong way not that long ago, dropping three of four National Basketball Association games right around Christmas, and they were being questioned about everything from their leadership to their effort.
They have since halted those questions and did so by changing their play. On Tuesday, they extended their winning streak to a season-high five games by defeating the Milwaukee Bucks 117-106 at the United Center.
"It wasn't anything I said or what anyone else said (in public)," Bulls guard Jimmy Butler said. "It was what we said together as a team in the locker room. 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."
Butler has been largely responsible for helping the Bulls (21-12) be a better team lately. Coming off a 42-point performance against the Toronto Raptors on Sunday, he continued to have the 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 eight-for-eight from the free-throw line.
"He's balling right now," Bulls point guard Derrick Rose. "I'll keep going to him until he doesn't want the ball any more."
Milwaukee (14-23), who got a team-high 26 points from guard Khris Middleton, just could not find enough consistency on defence.
On the other hand, the Bulls were again pleased with their offence. They have scored 100-plus points in their past eight games.
Bulls centre Pau Gasol had 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting, and he added 11 rebounds, five assists and three blocks. Rose had 16 points to go with six assists.
Forward Taj Gibson (11 points, 14 rebounds, six blocks) and forward Nikola Mirotic (14 points) also contributed in the win.
"I see a progression, I see a development which I like," Gasol said.
"Can we keep it this way for the entire, for every single game from here on out? If we're bringing the energy, the focus that is required in this league, then we have a chance because we have plenty of talent."