Hinrich a game-time decision for 'Circus Trip' opener

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Hinrich a game-time decision for 'Circus Trip' opener

PHOENIXKirk Hinrich was one of the first players on the floor at U.S. Airways Arena for the Bulls morning shootaround and immediately began shooting with an assistant coach, conveniently avoiding the small group of media who had traveled from Chicago. However, while the veteran point guard didnt talk about his status for Wednesday evenings game against the Suns, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, in his typically cautious fashion, expressed optimism that he would be in the lineup.

Well see. Hes feeling better. Well see what he can do, a surprisingly jovial Thibodeau said.He was a lot better yesterday and well see after this morning and then tonight, warming up.

I know hes feeling a lot better, so we have to let him get out there. He did some out there yesterday and feels a lot better today, he continued. Its always a game-time decision. A lot can happen between shootaround and the game. A guy gets treatment. You never know.

Obviously Nate will be the backup, Kirk will start and Marquis is there and ready. As I mentioned before, each day he comes in, hes working hard, hes improving and were not afraid to use him. Hes a good player.

A person familiar with the situation said he expects Hinrich to suit up Wednesday, a sentiment Hinrich was unwilling to fully commit tothough he was dealt to Washington just prior to Thibodeaus hiring, the floor generals habit of not disclosing personal information is very similar to the coachsafter Tuesday afternoons practice at the Berto Center, the teams final session before departing for the current five-game road trip.

Im feeling better, so Im just happy with the progress and Ill just keep trying to get better. I guess just how I move. Between now and Wednesday, I just have to do as much treatment as I can, and at some point, I have to really push it, test it, to see how I feel, Hinrich explained, noting that the Bulls mostly reviewed film Tuesday, though they were engaged in some light shooting and drill work when media availability began. Its come down over the last couple days. Originally, after I had to leave the Minnesota game, I was pretty bummed out. It just wasnt trending good. I dont want to be in and out of the lineup. I want to be in the lineup, stay in the lineup and my focus right now is to figure out the root of my problem, and whats causing these issues and take care of them, and stay on top of them.

My focus is just trying to figure out whats causing all my muscular problems and just go from there.

Hinrich, an understated type, also discussed the benefits of the team-building experience that occurs on extended road trips, as well as expressing confidence in the play of rookie Marquis Teague, who played solid basketball down the stretch of Monday nights home loss to the Celtics.

I think were all excited to get out on the road. On the road, its just us. Were all weve got. We dont have the fans, everything like that behind us, so its kind of a fun experience. So, well get out there, hopefully play some really good basketball, he said. Teague did really good. Hes a very talented player, very good athlete, long arms, good shooter. I try to sometimes step back and think what it would be like if I was 19. He did great. I try not to overwhelm him. I want him to know that if he has any questions, Im here for him, but more than anything, help him by example.

Thibodeau, as usual, broke down the strengths of his teams opponent, Phoenix, a rebuilding squad that has some offensive firepower.

Theyre versatile, theyre quick, they get the ball up the floor quickly, they can get into multiple pick-and-rolls, the skill set of their players. Dudleys a terrific basketball player. Dragic puts a lot of pressure off the dribble. Beasley, he can play the three, the four, hes inside, hes outside, hes off the dribble. Scola is very clever, you have to be discipline, shot-fake discipline, he knows how to score. Gortat is one of the most underrated big guys in the league. So, theyre a very good team, they have excellent shot-blocking. If they turn you over, now theyre in the open floor. That puts a lot of pressure on you. We just have to be ready from the start of the game, he said. There will be many pick-and-rolls in this game and often times, its not the initial pick-and-roll, its the second or third one on the same play, where theres the constant re-picking, so you have to have the discipline to, if you defend the first one well, you have to defend the second one, the third one. So, it has to be a multiple-effort mentality and everybody has to stay tied together. So, if we do that, we take care of the ball, the paint, then react out, well be okay.

When asked about the recent playing time of shooting guard Rip Hamilton, the coach revealed that due to the veterans injury-plagued campaign last season, hes being careful about the starters minutes.

I think Rips done fine and Im trying to monitor his minutes also right now, and the big thing for him and for us is his health, so thats what Im concerned with most and obviously, if we have to extend our defense, that changes things, too. But I think Rip has done well, Thibodeau explained. Hes fine. I just want to make sure it remains that way.

Of course, were monitoring that Hinrichs playing time, as well, just because of whats happened so far, but well see.

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Grab the first goal.

The Blackhawks have scored the game's first goal in seven of the last eight games, and of those seven, they've won six of them. Meanwhile, the Lightning have scored the first goal only 17 times in 48 games this season, and are 12-5-1 in those games. They're 9-17-4 when they allow the first goal, so getting out to a lead first will be important against a struggling Lightning team looking for signs of life.

2. Will the floodgates open for Jonathan Toews?

After a four-point game in a 4-2 win over Vancouver, the Blackhawks captain matched his point total over his previous nine games. He's up to 26 points on the season, which is now fifth among Chicago forwards. When Toews has offensive droughts, they usually last longer than they should. But when he gets hot, he gets extremely hot. Perhaps we'll see the floodgates open offensively.

3. A chance for the team lead in scoring.

With an empty-net goal on Sunday, Marian Hossa tied Artem Anisimov for the team-lead with 18 goals. Artemi Panarin is right behind with 17, and Patrick Kane isn't far either at 15. The Blackhawks had four 20-goal scorers last season, and haven't had more than that since the 2013-14 season. They're definitely on pace to hit four, but could they surprass that? Richard Panik, who scored another goal Sunday as well, is fifth with 11 goals while Ryan Hartman has 10. Toews is at eight, but a flurry after a drought could make things interesting.

4. The triplets reunited?

In an effort to jumpstart a struggling offense, Lightning coach Jon Cooper reunited the triplets line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat that was so successful during their 2015 playoff run in their latest game, a 5-3 loss to Arizona. It's unclear whether they will begin tonight's game on the same line, but if not, it's worth watching throughout the game whether they do. The Blackhawks have been coming at opponents in waves lately, so Cooper could look to separate the three to distribute the scoring.

5. Take advantage on special teams.

The Lightning have racked up the fifth-most penalty minutes in the league, and own a bottom-10 penalty kill unit at 80.1 percent. The Blackhawks are the second-least penalized team, and have converted on 17.9 percent of their power plays, which sits at 16th. But they haven't scored one on the man advantage in five straight games, going 0-for-9 during that span. Here's a chance to change that.

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Report: Cubs preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson

Report: Cubs preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson

The Cubs are preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson, hoping the talented, frequently injured pitcher can stay healthy and provide insurance for their rotation.

Anderson posted a telling message on his Twitter account on Monday night, hinting at what would be another offseason check mark for the defending World Series champs.

The physical for the agreement — first reported by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports and MLB Network — won't just be a formality as Anderson underwent back surgery last March and appeared in only four games for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season.

But Anderson fits on paper as a left-hander who will turn only 29 on Feb. 1 and won't have to carry front-of-the-rotation responsibilities or feel Opening Day urgency on a team with five projected starters.

The Cubs had been willing to gamble around $6 million on Tyson Ross, who recently signed a similarly structured one-year deal with the Texas Rangers as he recovers from surgery to address thoracic outlet syndrome.

The calculus would essentially be the same with Anderson. The Cubs have to factor in last year's grueling playoff run into early November, this season's sky-high expectations, the organization's lack of high-end, upper-level pitching prospects and the uncertainty surrounding the 2018 rotation.

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Anderson finished sixth in the 2009 American League Rookie of the Year voting with the Oakland A's, but he's reached the 30-start mark only one other time and never accounted for 200 innings in a single season.

Anderson underwent Tommy John surgery in the middle of the 2011 season, and the injuries piled up from there, dealing with a strained right oblique, a stress fracture in his right foot and a broken left index finger.

Anderson had such a fragile reputation that he accepted the one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Dodgers after a strong platform year in 2015 (10-9, 3.69 ERA). The Dodgers only got 11 1/3 innings out of Anderson, who didn't pitch during a playoff run that ended at Wrigley Field in the National League Championship Series.

The Cubs stayed exceptionally healthy while winning 200 games across the last two seasons and need to be prepared in case John Lackey sharply declines at the age of 38 or Mike Montgomery experiences growing pains while transitioning from the bullpen.

Whether or not Anderson is ultimately the answer, the Cubs will be looking to place a sixth starter into their plans.

"I don't know if a six-man rotation on a permanent basis is the wave of the future," team president Theo Epstein said earlier this winter. "But we certainly endorse it on a temporary basis as a nice way to pace guys for the whole season.

"We can get them some rest, whether you do it in April to preserve depth and ease guys into the season, especially after a deep October and November run. Or after the All-Star break in the summer to kind of get through the dog days and give guys a little bit of a breather as you ramp up for the stretch run.

"I think it would be tough to pull off all season long. But it's something that (could certainly work) in the right spot."