CHICAGO -- Bulls forward Jimmy Butler is only in his second NBA season, but he appears ready for any challenge.
After playing well as a starter for five games in place of the injured Luol Deng, Butler returned to a reserve role Monday, yet he still scored a career-high 19 points as Chicago held off the Charlotte Bobcats 93-85 at the United Center.
Deng, who missed time with a right hamstring strain, was back in the starting lineup, and he scored 12 points in 31 minutes.
"Honestly, I was a little worried," Deng said. "I haven't gone full speed like that. I was worried a little bit about the change of speed, so I'm happy to not have setbacks or any problems. I felt a little tight, but didn't feel like I felt before I did it the last time."
Even with Deng's return, Butler stayed in the spotlight. He's been a pleasant surprise all season after being drafted with the No. 30 pick out of Marquette a year ago. After Monday's performance, Carlos Boozer lobbied to get Butler in the rookie-sophomore game during All-Star Weekend.
"Nothing changes. I don't want anything to change," Butler said. "I still want to be the small-town kid from Tomball (Texas) that floats under the radar. If you sleep on anybody on this team, they can come back and get you."
Chicago guard Nate Robinson added 15 points, while Joakim Noah finished with 18 rebounds, 13 points, seven assists and five blocked shots. It was Noah's fourth straight game with at least 15 rebounds, a career first.
Robinson led a surge at the start of the fourth quarter, hitting two 3-point baskets to put the Bulls ahead 71-57 with 10:29 remaining.
Charlotte battled back behind guard Kemba Walker and Ben Gordon, both of whom finished with 18 points. After Walker and Gordon hit 3-pointers, two free throws by Jeff Adrien brought the Bobcats to within 84-78 with 2:32 remaining.
Butler gave Chicago some breathing room by knocking a rebound away from Bobcats center Bismack Biyombo and then hitting a hanging lay-in. After Ramon Sessions brought Charlotte back within 86-80 with two free throws, Chicago's Carlos Boozer hammered a dunk over Biyombo with 1:26 to go.
"I thought we did a good job late of getting back in it," said Gordon, who began his NBA career with the Bulls. "I thought that throughout the game, they just played consistent defense. That was the big difference."
The Bulls brought plenty of defensive energy to the game, but they still had trouble pulling away from the Bobcats.
Charlotte shot just 30.4 percent from the field in the first quarter yet trailed only 21-18. The Bulls opened a 40-26 advantage with 5:16 left in the second quarter when Deng's 3-point basket capped a 17-6 run.
Walker responded with seven straight points to bring the Bobcats back. Charlotte trailed by six points until Kirk Hinrich's 3-pointer at the buzzer gave the Bulls a 49-40 edge at halftime.
Charlotte tied the score at 55-55 with 3:36 left in the third when Walker recovered the ball after a long scramble and drained an 18-footer as the shot clock expired.
Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap gave Adrien his first NBA start on Monday. The 6-foot-7 Adrien, signed Dec. 9 from the D-League, has played in 49 games for three different teams. He finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds against the Bulls.
"Well, he's physical and we knew we needed some help on the boards," Dunlap said of Adrien. "We walk away from this game with lessons learned. Physically we matched them, as far as that goes. We just had a couple things that we need to do a little bit better, and we know what they are."
NOTES: Butler played well in Deng's absence, averaging 14.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and 45.2 minutes per game. ... The last time Charlotte visited the United Center on Dec. 31, it snapped an 18-game losing streak by beating the Bulls 91-81. The Bobcats ended a 16-game home losing streak on Saturday with a 102-101 win over Minnesota. ... Monday marked the nine-month anniversary of Derrick Rose's knee injury in the Bulls' playoff opener against the Philadelphia 76ers. Rose is now practicing with the team, but he's probably a few weeks from returning to game action. ... Dunlap on getting his first NBA head coaching interview with the Bulls in 2008: "It was a good experience. (Bulls executive John) Paxson and crew really put me through the paces on the white board. It was a precursor maybe for the interview with Charlotte because I knew what to expect by then."