Thibodeau undecided on Rip's fill-in as Bulls enter tough stretch

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Thibodeau undecided on Rip's fill-in as Bulls enter tough stretch

DEERFIELD -- Now that Rip Hamiltons left-foot injury has been diagnosed as a torn plantar fascia -- an ailment that doesn't disappear overnight -- the question is, who starts at shooting guard during the veterans absence? Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau didnt shed much light on the situation following the teams practice Monday at the Berto Center.
Im not sure yet, said the coach, who followed that revelation up with could be, when asked if either second-year swingman Jimmy Butler or backup shooting guard Marco Belinelli would fill in for Hamilton.
Everybody we have has played well at one time or another, so I feel good about that position. Marco has started a lot of games before, Jimmy has played terrific all season long and we have some flexibility, too. Kirk Hinrich, the teams current starting point guard can go to the two, so well be fine, he continued, as injured superstar Derrick Rose periodically popped out, while running sprints under the supervision of the team's training staff.
Were going to look at everything. Were going to take a look at what makes most sense to us and well go from there. But I like the way Jimmys played, Marcos playing better and better, so we have a lot of things going in the right direction right now.
Thibodeau lamented the loss of Hamilton, who is averaging 13.9 points per game and is valuable threat on a mostly scoring-deficient squad. More significantly, hes one of few players on the Bulls that opposing teams have to truly game-plan for defensively.
Well see. Basically, it could be a week, could be two weeks, could be longer. Once Hamilton feels good enough to play, hell be back, Thibodeau said. Its not only scoring, but his playmaking. With that being said, we have more than enough to win with. The next guy has to step up, know what his job is, do his job and get it done.
Hes doing fine, good spirits. He actually worked out today. Hes got some soreness, but hell be fine, he added. You see it more and more. In his case, its better that its torn; that speeds everything up -- thats one of those things, it lingers for a while -- but hell be fine. Hes had a number of different injuries. He understands what he has to go through to get back.
Due to how well Butler has been playing as of late, it wouldnt be surprising to see Thibodeau give Belinelli the nod as the starter, to keep the budding chemistry on the Bulls second unit going. Butler and Taj Gibson have repeatedly energized the Bulls with their defensive prowess and transition scoring off the bench, something Butler himself noted Monday.
I wouldnt mind that at all. I was talking to Griff Bulls assistant coach Adrian Griffin about it and I like being that spark off the bench with Taj. I feel like that gives me a lot more energy. Just running out there with Taj, seeing the energy that he gives off, the big plays that he makes, the hustle plays, I kind of want to be like that coming off the bench, he explained. I dont think I have a case. I just feel like if I start or come off the bench, my job is to bring energy to the team and hit open shots.
To tell you the truth, I never even think about it. I feel like coming off the bench or starting, I feel like we all just want to win the game, so if I come off the bench or play at the end of the game, I just want the Bulls to have more points than our opponent, Butler continued. Im a lot more confident, but I think its because the work that I put in every day that the confidence that my teammates have in me is so much different than in the beginning of the season. The games starting to slow down, Im starting to be more patient, I know where to get on the floor, where to get the ball, so it makes everything a lot easier.
It means a lot because theres a lot more reps, and theres a lot more possessions up and down the court, different plays with different players, so you get the feel for a lot of different things, not only in the game, but the many different teammates that I might play with.
Still, Butler claimed that hes just as in the dark as the rest of us.
That, or Thibodeau swore him to secrecy.
I really do not know. Coach, he hasnt said anything, he deadpanned. Hell let us know tomorrow.
I dont even think Ill have to call my mom. She reads the Internet more than I do, so shell tell everybody before I even get a chance to, the Texas native went on to say. Rips a great player, a great leader and he does a lot of things well for our team, so he definitely will be missed, but hell be coaching us up, hell be there spiritually and on the bench, cheering, and letting everybody know what they could do better. Thats what leaders do.
Thibodeau has been pleased with Butlers progress after he saw scant playing time as a rookie a year ago. His slashing ability, athleticism, toughness and defense have all been boons for the Bulls and while hes still developing as an outside shooter, there are signs -- including a big corner three-pointer down the stretch of the Bulls narrow home win Saturday over Philadelphia -- that he can make an impact in that aspect of the game, as well.
Thibodeau explained: Hes a very good corner three-point shooter, so if its there, I want him to shoot it. I think hes played very smart, hes playing to his strengths. Hes moving extremely well without the ball, hes a great cutter, hes tough on the baseline. Hes done a number of things well. He attacks the basket, gets to the free-throw line, sprints the floor in transition and those are the things we need him to do.
Butler chimed in: Oh, definitely. I think my teammates know that I should take that shot. They know if Im there and if Im open, Im going to take that shot. I think Im going to make it, they think Im going to make it, so Ive just got to get out there and shoot it.
Of course, Belinelli came to Chicago with a reputation as a shooter and although he struggled mightily to begin the season, hes starting to play better as time goes on. Perhaps more important to Thibodeau is the fact that hes starting to grasp the level of defense it takes to be a contributor to the Bulls.
I think hes getting more comfortable and I think his team defense is very good right now, it continues to improve, hes putting a lot of effort into it and thats all we want him to do, just keep improving, the coach said. I think hes got a little more comfortable with everything and hes got experience. I think he knows his opponent well and hes putting forth good effort each and every day.
Its unlikely that Thibodeau follows through on his suggestion that Hinrich is a potential starter at shooting guard -- that decision would mean Nate Robinson would start at point guard, taking away his instant-offense scoring off the bench -- but it isnt completely out of the realm of possibility.
The value of Kirk is that he can defend three positions and it doesnt matter who those three are. Hes a great defensive player. But were going to do whats best for the team, what we feel gives us the best chance to win, Thibodeau said. Well see. Id like to get into a rotation, so guys have an idea when theyre coming in, but well take a look at a lot of different things.
Hinrich, who has significant experience playing both guard positions -- and even functioned as a small forward, at least on the defensive end, during his brief tenure in Washington, playing alongside John Wall and Gilbert Arenas -- is prepared for anything.
Id be comfortable doing whatever. Ive been working on dummy offense at the two a little bit, just so I would know it, he rationalized. I wouldnt have any problem with anything Thibodeau did, to be honest, as long as its what we wanted to do as a team and what direction we wanted to go with that we thought was going to give us the best chance to win.
Still, the veteran seemed to indicate that he believed that either Belinelli or Butler would be playing next to him Tuesday night, when the Bulls host the Pacers in the first of four games in five nights, including a two-game road trip that will see them visit Cleveland and Detroit.
Were still going to run our stuff. Obviously theyre Belinelli and Butler a little bit different than Rip. Both of them have a little bit kind of different games, per se, so either one of them, I think, would fill in nicely and I think were lucky to have guys like that to come off the bench and step up, said Hinrich, who noted that Hamilton was treating it his injury I saw him on the stationary bike a little bit, while the team practiced. They play that spot every day. The only difference would be they would be with the starting unit. Theyre familiar with the system, they know how were going to play and its a matter of coming out and playing.
You can weigh the pros and cons of it all you want. The bottom line is both of them are going to get their minutes. I dont know which unit its going to be with.
Regardless of who starts in the backcourt, the Bulls are aware that their upcoming stretch wont be easy, since after their trio of matchups against Central Division rivals, theyll return home to face one of the leagues top teams in the Knicks -- giving them a pair of back-to-back contests in a four-game span -- and then delve into an even tougher slate during the middle of December. Indiana, which was reeling at the outset of the season, following the loss of go-to scorer Danny Granger, has been much-improved as of late, playing a similar style of ugly basketball to the Bulls, as one of the few teams in the league with a defense thats statistically better than Chicagos.
Theyre playing very well right now. Theyve played well on this trip. Theyve been on the road for a while. They play hard, their defense is terrific, they pound the ball inside, they share the ball, so itll be a good test for us, said Thibodeau.
"Whatever comes your way, you have to be ready for. We had the long West Coast trip with one back-to-back and so, thats a little bit different. Then, it was split for the Milwaukee game. Now, youre dealing with some back-to-backs. I think the whole key is to get ready for your next opponent. Sometimes the schedules going in your favor, sometimes its going against you. But just be ready for each opponent and concentrate on improvement. Thats all we want to do, keep getting better each and every day, and if we do that and were locked into the right things, we will improve.
Hinrich added: Weve got four games in five nights this week, but weve got a big one tomorrow against a division opponent and hopefully we can continue to play well, and continue to get some wins.
I think they Indiana kind of got off to a slow start, but theyre playing really well lately and theyre a very good team.

Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade lift Bulls to win over pesky Heat

Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade lift Bulls to win over pesky Heat

The emotion of playing in Miami may have been missing for Dwyane Wade but it was still the Miami Heat on the other side, the franchise he put it all on the line for before the two sides couldn’t agree on a contract last summer.

So he still had some extra juice on a snowy Saturday night that probably made him yearn for the breeze of South Beach, giving the pesky Heat some of his wrath and little flash in a 105-100 win at the United Center.

Wade scored 28 points on 11 of 24 shooting in 35 minutes to go along with three rebounds, three assists and two blocks against his former team.

Wade got the Bulls off to a better second half start while Jimmy Butler, all too happy to lurk in the wings while Wade got his shots up, had his say late in the fourth when the Heat hung around longer than expected.

Butler and Wade combined to strip Goran Dragic on a weave play that could’ve tied the game for the Heat with seven seconds left and the Bulls leading by three, as Butler sealed the game with two free throws, finishing his 31-point, seven-rebound and five-assist night.

“We got a win. We found a way to win,” Wade said. “We lost a game like this earlier this year (Lakers). We weren’t playing great and they found a way to beat us. In this league, there’s gonna be some nights where you play amazing and some where you play just well enough to get a win. Never begrudge a win.”

Saying that in the aftermath of a win came because the Bulls’ fourth-quarter offense again came to a crawl, a deal one would have to negotiate when having players like Wade and Butler on the floor who can dominate the ball for stretches to make plays.

But the Bulls shot just 40 percent on six of 15 shooting as Wade and Butler combined to score 16 of their 22 points.

“That will be the big emphasis and focus in practice on Monday, we’ll really work on our fourth-quarter execution,” said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg.

Butler was bullying the smaller and slightly-built Heat defenders, he got to the basket at will and kept the pressure on the interior defense of Hassan Whiteside. Most of his production came from the midrange or the paint, as the Bulls took just eight 3-pointers and committed just 11 turnovers—making for a clean if not old-fashioned game.

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“I’m confident we’ll hit double digit 3-pointers again,” said Hoiberg in a tongue-in-cheek fashion. “You shoot eight of them, you take what the defense gives you. I thought the rhythm and flow was good for three quarters.”

They seemed to follow Wade’s lead, at least in style, as he probed and spun and danced his way to the rim for as many shots in the paint as he’s taken all season despite leaving more than a few on the lip of the rim or giving the officials sideways looks after not getting what he felt were rightful foul calls.

Wade scored 11 third after the Bulls were sleepwalking on one end of the floor for the first half, leading to a 55-all game, the type of performance that Gregg Popovich would’ve given a media lashing to afterwards.

“I thought we were going through the motions a little bit, picked it up in the second half,” Hoiberg said.

Dragic owned his matchup against Rajon Rondo, getting to the paint at will, forcing switches and attacking the rim relentlessly whenever the Bulls left a sliver of an opening, scoring 21 with 11 assists before his unfortunate turnover.

One can say Dragic essentially kept the Heat in it for the first half as the Bulls’ defense hadn’t received its wake-up call, but it came in the form of Wade’s aggressiveness to start the half.

“He was pretty much going where he wanted in that first half and we struggled with it,” Hoiberg said.

A sweeping hook shot was followed by the 34-year old splitting the defense on a fast break for a dunk and 3-point play, and he finished the spurt with a baseline spin and layup to put the Bulls up double-digits.

“I thought he had a lot of pop and good legs, and one dunk he looked like a young 22-year old Dwyane Wade,” Hoiberg said. “They had good matchups, Dwyane obviously had it going tonight.”

But the Heat wouldn’t go away—or the Bulls wouldn’t put a team playing its fourth game in five nights away—as the energetic Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson came off the bench to give an ailing team a boost, combining for 26 points.

Whiteside was swatting away more than his share of shots and changing a few others, as he scored 18 with eight rebounds and three blocks but went scoreless in the fourth until his basket that brought the Bulls’ lead to one with a little over 10 seconds left.

It wasn’t pretty but it was effective enough for the Bulls to settle themselves and reverse a too-common trend of a big letdown after a big win.

Three Bears necessities to lay a broom on the Lions

Three Bears necessities to lay a broom on the Lions

If the Lions beat the Bears in Detroit, it'd be a recent rarity. No, not the Bears losing, but in this long series that reaches 175 games Sunday. One team or the other has swept the season series 11 of the last 12 years (the lone exception being 2011). The 17-14 Bears win Oct. 2 ended a string of six consecutive losses to their division rivals. At that point, both clubs were 1-3. The Bears have remained at that pace since, while the Lions have taken off, winning seven of eight.

It was Brian Hoyer's steady hand that guided that win, while a Vic Fangio defense missing Eddie Goldman, Pernell McPhee and Danny Trevathan forced Matthew Stafford into easily his worst game of the season.

1. STAY COMMITTED

That first meeting was Jordan Howard's first start, and his first 100-yard game, and the rook ran it 23 times for the first of five 100-yard rushing efforts (113). And since the two Bears touchdowns were scored by a couple of players who won't suit up Sunday (Eddie Royal and Zach Miller, from a quarterback who also won't be suiting up), keep feeding the beast. He's 117 yards from reaching the 1,000-yard mark (after just a dozen carries the first three games), and another 100-yard effort would give him the most for a rookie in Bears franchise history.

2. A FASTER START FOR MATT

...meaning Barkley, not Stafford. The Bears want to avoid a faster start by Stafford and the home offense, which was held to just one first down and 14 total plays on their first four possessions back in October. As Barkley makes his first NFL road start in a dome, he and his offensive teammates need to get out of the gate quicker than they have the last two home games. Before they got things rolling on the final drive of the first half against the San Francisco 49ers, they had four possessions that totaled 14 plays, 27 net yards and two first downs. In Barkley's first start two weeks ago against the Tennessee Titans, they surrounded one 13-play touchdown drive in the opening half with five possessions, totaling 16 plays, 108 yards, three first downs, and an interception.

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3. HOO-RATIO

The Bears have lost the turnover battle in eight of their 12 games, and just twice have they won it. One of those instances was in Week 4. For a team that has just five interceptions all year, against a quarterback who's thrown just five picks, two came in the first meeting on the lakefront. And those picks were by (....wait for it....) Deiondre Hall (the rookie who'll play for the first time since that game), and Jacoby Glenn, who's now back on the practice squad. Now, yes, Stafford is a different beast in his den, and there's a completely different confidence level now for the NFC North leaders. But what if the defense can pull an encore? And can Leonard Floyd and Akiem Hicks pick up where they left off against another mobile quarterback? The Bears had just two sacks in the first meeting, registered by (....wait for it....) Mitch Unrein and Cornelius Washington.

** Finish up your snow removal by 11 a.m. Plop yourself in front of CSN, and watch ex-Bears Lance Briggs, Jim Miller and Alex Brown join Chris for Bears Pregame Live. Then as soon as the second quarter ends on CBS, log on here to CSNChicago.com as Jim and Chris break down the first 30 minutes and go over second half adjustments on Bears Halftime Live. Finally, as soon as the team's start sharing handshakes, flip back to CSN as the three ex-Bears and Chris provide 90 minutes of reaction, analysis, press conferences and locker room interviews from Detroit on Bears Postgame Live. **