Bulls’ Butler has strained left knee, no ligament damage

Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler waves to fans as they applaud him while Butler is taken off the court after being injured. (David Zalubowski/AP)

MINNEAPOLIS — When All-Star guard Jimmy Butler elevated during the second quarter of a game against Denver on Friday night, he heard a pop in his left knee — the last noise any basketball player wants to hear. The Chicago Bulls braced for the worst when Butler went in for an MRI exam.

After an anxious night of sleep, the Bulls were able to breathe a sigh of relief when the exam revealed that Butler has a strained left knee and no significant ligament damage. There was no immediate timetable for his return, and coach Fred Hoiberg said the team would have a better idea after Butler is examined by team doctors in Chicago on Sunday.

"It’s scary," Hoiberg said. "He took off, he heard a pop and you expect the worse when you hear that. … Any time the ligaments are intact when a situation like that happens, it’s a relief."

Butler missed the game on Saturday night against Minnesota, and Hoiberg said he would also miss Monday’s game at Charlotte, but the coach was not ready just yet to rule him out for the All-Star game in Toronto next week.

Butler needed to be carted off the court after his injury, the latest in a long line of injuries for the Bulls. Butler has emerged as the new leader of the franchise, averaging 22.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists for a team that has struggled to find its footing in the Eastern Conference.

No matter how long Butler is out, the strain of the soft tissue around his left knee is a far better outcome than a torn ligament, which would have ended his season.

The team also got some good news on the health front with two other players. Forward Mike Dunleavy was available for the game against Minnesota on Saturday after missing the first 49 games of the season while recovering from back surgery.

Hoiberg said before the game that Dunleavy felt a little discomfort in his back after a workout on Friday, which was expected. But after going through a pregame workout, he deemed himself ready for his season debut.

Pau Gasol was listed as questionable for the game with a sore left hand, but he was in the starting lineup.

E'Twaun Moore replaced Butler in the starting lineup at shooting guard.