The Chicago Bulls are enjoying their best stretch of the season with Jimmy Butler leading the way.
The Boston Celtics are enduring some woes, but their defense and play on the road make them a dangerous opponent.
The Bulls look to extend their season-high winning streak to six Thursday night when they meet a Celtics' club that owns the Eastern Conference's best road record.
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It's well documented by now that Butler was critical of coach Fred Hoiberg after a blowout loss at New York on Dec. 19. The superstar has backed up his strong words with strong play, averaging 31.3 points in the last four games of this win streak.
Chicago (21-12) is averaging 109.2 points in the last five games.
"Everybody's doing their job, trying to win their matchup," Butler said. "When you buy into that team thing, you win five games in a row."
Boston (19-16) comes to town after its third loss in four games, falling 99-94 to Detroit on Wednesday. The Celtics led by 13 in the third quarter before collapsing down the stretch, getting outscored 33-19 in the fourth.
''We didn't bring it in the second half,'' said Jae Crowder, a college teammate of Butler's at Marquette.
The Celtics have brought it on the road, posting a 10-6 mark with three straight wins and may thrive being away from Beantown. They are also 5-2 in the second game of back-to-backs for the East's best mark.
Boston can also play defense, allowing 97.9 points per 100 possessions for the league's second-best mark to San Antonio.
Guard Avery Bradley is expected to miss a third straight game with a left hip contusion. Coach Brad Stevens indicated that David Lee or Tyler Zeller will see action in this contest after neither played Wednesday.
Isaiah Thomas, reportedly playing with a sprained left thumb, had 22 points and 10 assists.
Derrick Rose returned for the Bulls in Tuesday's 117-106 home win over Milwaukee after missing three games with a sore right hamstring. He showed no effects of the injury and took the ball to the basket all night, finishing with 16 points.
''I thought Derrick was good. He was a little rusty out of the gate. Once he started attacking the basket, I really liked the way he was playing,'' Hoiberg said.
Much has been made of the transition from defensive-minded former coach Tom Thibodeau to the offensive-minded Hoiberg possibly hurting Chicago on that end of the court. The Bulls, though, lead the NBA in defensive field-goal percentage at 41.8.
The Celtics survived Butler's 36-point night in a 105-100 home victory over the Bulls on Dec. 9. Thomas scored 20 as one of eight Celtics to score in double digits.
Lee had 12 points and six rebounds in 18 minutes, making him a good choice to see action Thursday.
Flashy Chicago native Evan Turner has started the last two games in place of Bradley, totaling 29 points and 17 boards. Turner scored 29 in Boston's last trip to the United Center, a 109-104 overtime defeat Jan. 3, 2015.