DEERFIELD, ILL.--Feel free to disregard the following if you've heard it before and are now inclined to believe it when you see it, as opposed to hearing about it in advance, but one of the Bulls' walking wounded could return to the lineup Thursday.
Top reserve Taj Gibson, who sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee during a Feb. 24 loss at Oklahoma City, could return for the team's next contest, when they host Portland at the United Center.
"I felt great today. Had a great scrimmage, great practice. Felt good to be out there with the guys, just like old times. Just looking forward to trying to come back and play," Gibson said after Wednesday afternoon's practice at the United Center, before explaining his criteria to return. "It's just if I can plant off it, if I can guard somebody. That's the main thing we're trying to do right now. Just trying to get it strong, get it stable. But it was fine today, so I'm looking forward to seeing how it's going to react tomorrow."
The athletic big man, known for his non-stop motor on both ends of the floor, also discussed how he's struggled with being inactive.
"We're always in the back [of the Bulls' locker room] because most of us don't like to wear suits. We're all in the back, just getting treatment, trying to recover and it's painful. Being back there with Derrick [Rose] and Kirk [Hinrich] is the worst because they always talk when the TV's on," he joked, then turned serious.
"Every game in the back with Derrick Rose is just painful, just watching because you know you can't go out there and help the guys, especially on defense, just bringing energy to try to help the team do whatever it takes to win," he explained. "I just miss it all and especially coming down the stretch, we're going to need everybody--even myself, Kirk Hinrich--everybody, so we understand our backs are to the wall. We've just got to keep pushing."
The frustration of having missed 10 consecutive games with an injury that was initially expected to keep him out for only two weeks is getting to Gibson, which may lead to him playing Thursday.
"Knowing me, I'm going to try to play. That's one thing about my teammates, they know I'm a guy that goes out there, lays it on the line for my team, plays hard and just try to see how I feel tomorrow. That's the main thing. I hope there's no swelling or anything," he said, then dismissed his chances of aggravating the ailment. "That's not really in the back of my head. When you go out there and just play tentative, that's when things tend to happen, so today I went out there, had a great practice. Just pushed it, did wind sprints. Just kept pushing it and tried to see how far I've come and the training staff has been doing a great job. They're monitoring my minutes, so hopefully I'll be able to play tomorrow."
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau was typically vague about Gibson's status for Thursday--as well as Hinrich, who had hoped to play in last Friday's road win over Golden State, but suffered a setback between the previous day's practice in Oakland and the team's morning shootaround in San Francisco, and veteran shooting guard Rip Hamilton, who didn't practice Wednesday because of an ongoing back ailment--but was cautiously optimistic.
"Taj did a lot more, Kirk did a lot more," the coach said. "Feeling better, still day-to-day."
All-Star center Joakim Noah was more positive about Gibson's potential return and shed some light on his teammate's importance to the team.
"He looked very good," Noah said about Gibson's showing at practice. "He just brings in a whole different dimension. He's probably one of the best defensive bigs in the league. Very versatile with his defense, scoring a lot of different ways. We need everybody."
While Noah was being somewhat facetious when asked about his vision of how the Bulls would perform when fully intact--"We're going to win," he deadpanned. "We're going to win the championship."--Gibson was more open about the predicament the injury-riddled team has been in and expressed his belief that they have the potential to make some noise when the postseason arrives.
"We think so. We've just been tagged with injuries the whole year long. We never really got the whole group together, so the next couple weeks or hopefully the next couple days, we'll see how our group comes together with guys coming back off injury," he said. "Looking forward to it [the playoffs]. It's been a long year, but it's still got a lot of time left to play and we're only focused on the next game."