Hinrich making progress, hopes to play in Bulls opener


Hinrich making progress, hopes to play in Bulls opener

DEERFIELD, Ill. -- Bulls starting point guard Kirk Hinrich fully participated in the team's practice Monday afternoon at the Berto Center and while neither he nor Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau would commit to saying that the veteran will be ready for the Halloween season opener, they both indicated that he's making progress. Hinrich received treatment after the afternoon session and was optimistic about the strained right groin injury suffered in the preseason not keeping him out of his regular-season return to the United Center.

"I'm doing much better," Hinrich said. "I participated in practice today and was pretty pleased about it.

"As of right now, if I don't have any setbacks tomorrow or anything, I plan on playing," he added. "It's something I've never really have before, I'm just happy with the improvement, and I just felt it was important for me today to get out there and get some reps, and try to test it as much as I could.

"For a chance to be playing, I was going to be out here a couple days to see how it feels and I was very happy with it today, so moving forward, I'm going to approach tomorrow the same way and try to get through a full practice without any issues and see how I'm feeling."

Thibodeau concurred: "He was fine, a little bit better today. Practiced, went well, so we'll see where we are tomorrow."

Between Hinrich's original stint in Chicago and his return this season, he's been nicked up with various ailments while playing in Atlanta and Washington. Although his hard-charging style hasn't changed much since his younger days, the veteran explained that he now takes a different approach when he's banged up.

"All I can do is get my treatment, try to give an honest opinion of how I feel and try to test it out, and push it in ways that I'll be pushed in the game, so I felt like today was very positive in that regard," Hinrich said. "I'm probably a little bit smarter. I've had some injuries that have kept me out for extended periods of time at this point in my career. Just smarter in that regard."

Marcus Kruger 'pretty close' to returning for Blackhawks

Marcus Kruger 'pretty close' to returning for Blackhawks

Marcus Kruger has been sidelined a little longer than the originally expected three weeks with his right hand injury. Not that any missed time is enjoyable.

"I wanted to get back there probably a few weeks ago but unfortunately I couldn't," said Kruger, who suffered his injury on Dec. 30 against the Carolina Hurricanes. "I tried to listen to the doctors and do everything I can instead to be ready when I get cleared. That's my mindset."

Kruger is close, but not quite there, as the Blackhawks prepared for Sunday night's game against the Vancouver Canucks. Kruger skated with his teammates for the first time since being injured but wasn't among the line rushes. The center took faceoffs on his own at the end of practice. Kruger pronounced himself, "pretty close," to returning. Coach Joel Quenneville said the Blackhawks will see how Kruger is over the next few days. The Blackhawks play again Tuesday and Thursday before heading into the All-Star break this weekend.

The Blackhawks have missed Kruger's versatility and especially his play on the penalty kill. The Blackhawks' kill has been fine through Kruger's absence but he nevertheless is a big part of it when he's healthy.

"We have a lot of options and when he's out everyone gets a more important role, whether starting or faceoffs. And we have a rotation of five guys who are in there most of the time. But he definitely absorbs the most responsibility when he's playing in that area," Quenneville said of Kruger. "So it's nice you get to try some other guys and you get deeper as you go along."

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

One of the players who's emerged in Kruger's absence is Tanner Kero, who filled his third-line center void. Kero and linemates Vinnie Hinostroza and Marian Hossa clicked on the dads trip, coming up with big plays and points in the Blackhawks' victories over Colorado and Boston. As of now, Kero appears to have the hold on third-line center.

"I don't see too many things that would change his positioning because he really helped himself," Quenneville said.

Kruger said he's fine if that means returning to fourth-line center duties. Regardless, he'll help bolster the Blackhawks' forward lines. The last step is likely contact, which Kruger got a little of – outside of faceoffs – in Sunday's skate. Kruger's had to wait a little longer than expected on his injury but he's getting there.

Cubs, White Sox react to tragic deaths of Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte


Cubs, White Sox react to tragic deaths of Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

The sports world woke up to some tragic news on Sunday morning.

Former major leaguer Andy Marte and Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura were both killed in separate car accidents in the Dominican Republic within an hour of each other, according to multiple reports. A Royals representative confirmed the death of 25-year-old Ventura.

The Cubs and White Sox took to Twitter to give their condolences:

Ventura was a member of the Royals from 2013-16 and won a World Series title in 2015 with Ben Zobrist and Wade Davis, who the Cubs acquired this offseason for Jorge Soler. Ventura also played with White Sox pitcher James Shields in 2013-14.

Marte, 33, played a majority of his seven-year career with the Cleveland Indians. He was teammates with Todd Hollandsworth (Atlanta 2005), Kerry Wood (Cleveland 2009-10), and Miguel Montero (Arizona 2014).