Veteran backcourt of Hamilton, Hinrich play subtle role in victory

974755.png

Veteran backcourt of Hamilton, Hinrich play subtle role in victory

ORLANDOOver the course of their respective careers, the veteran starting backcourt of Kirk Hinrich and Rip Hamilton have seen it all. No longer in their individual primes, the veterans are still effective players, even when theyre not putting up gaudy scoring numbers.

Wednesday nights Bulls win was a prime example of that, as Hinrichs return to the lineup from a left-knee injury galvanized the team on both ends of the floor, while Hamilton, who jokingly said he had a John Stockton game, exceeded the minutes limit hed been restricted to since returning from a months absence and showcased his playmaking ability. More significantly, they made winning plays in a game where the Bulls needed it.

I thought Kirk battled the whole game, I thought he ran the team great, we had great shot distribution, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau explained. I thought Rip made a number of good plays, but our primary scorers got their shots.

The starting frontcourt of Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson combined for 75 points against the Magic, while Hamilton and Hinrich combined for 17 assists. Hinrichs value was obvious, as the Bulls seemed much less disjointed on offense and although Orlando point guard Jameer Nelson went for a game-high 32 points, Hinrich made him work all game, including when Nelson attempted a game-tying shot near the end.

Jameer was rolling. He had been hurt, but hes been shooting the ball really well for them, so if you give him any airspace right now, hes knocking that three in. Youve got to have the mental toughness to stay into him, Thibodeau said. Youve got to have toughness. Youve got to win games different ways.

Hinrich added: Didnt want him to get a three off, got up on him, took a dribble, shot-faked and just missed the shot.

Offensively, we were good tonight. Weve still got to get back to who we are, defense and rebounding. But I thought all night, we kind of had a good attitude, we stayed together, we tried to do the right things, he continued. We havent been playing well and weve got guys out, we knew we had to pick each other up tonight. We knew times in the game, things arent going to go well, but if things go our way sometimes or not, we knew it was super-important tonight to pick each other up and just stay the course.

Longtime teammate Luol Deng chimed in: Kirk is great. Plays hard, runs the team out thereyoure going to get your lookshes getting everyone in their spots, he just does a good job of just making sure that were getting good looks and executing, and everything.

Hinrich, who has had five separate injuries this season, experienced a scare when he slipped on a wet spot during the game, but said afterwards that he was fine.

Its been that kind of year for me, I guess. It seems like everywhere I go, somethings going to happen to me out there, he quipped. My knee felt much better tonight, so I was happy about that.

Hamilton has had injury issues of his own and while Thibodeau claimed hed only play the veteran 15 to 20 minutes a night as he returned from a torn plantar fascia, he broke his own promise by inserting the shooting guard into the game late, as the Bulls struggled offensively.

I know, right? I thought that I was actually done, but as the game was going, we couldnt score and he put me back in, and we went up by 10, but we gave it right back. It was just one of those things where I had to stay ready, said Hamilton, who noted that his foot felt fine. A lot of times when you play against teams, they try to take me away early and then, if Im making the right pass, they kind of switch it up. Tonight, they just stuck with it the whole night and it just made the game easier for my teammates. Booz had a great game, Taj had a great game, Lu and that was my goal tonight. Just saying, It might not be my night to score the ball, but if I can get those guys easy baskets to get a win, that would be great.

Thibodeau explained: I just liked the way he was playmaking. I felt we were really struggling to score, so I wanted to get him back on to the floor. But Im still very concerned about his minutes, so we have to watch that closely.

Five Things to Watch: Bulls in Detroit for fourth game in five nights on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Bulls in Detroit for fourth game in five nights on CSN

Watch as the Bulls take on the Pistons tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Bulls 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 Bulls.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

1. Stop the bleeding. The Bulls have now lost two in a row for the second time this season. The recent slump is four losses out of the past six and three of those losses have come to teams with losing records. Any momentum from beating Cleveland is long gone after back-to-back losses. The Bulls need to get back in the win column. 

2. Fourth game in five nights. A rested Dwyane Wade, who did not travel with the team to Dallas on Saturday, put up 34 points in Monday's 112-110 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. Now the Bulls are facing the second of a back-to-back and a fourth game in five nights. So far this season the Bulls are 2-2 in the back end of back-to-backs.

3. Inserting Rondo back in the lineup. Rajon Rondo is epected to return from his one-game suspension for Tuesday's game in Detroit. The Bulls didn't win without Rondo and replacement Jerian Grant was just 1-for-7 from the field. Getting Rondo back at point guard should help the Bulls.

4. Bench production. It's been a theme throughout the season, but the Bulls need better production out of the bench. In Monday's loss to Portland, all four Bulls who came off the bench posted negative plus-minus numbers while all four Blazers off the bench were on the plus side. When Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler combine for 60 points at home, the Bulls should be able to win those games, but that didn't happen against the Blazers.

5. Balanced Pistons. When Reggie Jackson scored 18 points in his first game of the season in the Pistons' loss to the Magic on Sunday he became the seventh player on the team to be averaging double figures in scoring. The Heat are the only other team in the NBA that can say that. For the record, the Bulls have five players who average double figures.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

- Check out the latest stats and standings to make sure you’re ready for action

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

- NBC Sports App FAQ: All your questions answered

- Latest on the Bulls: All of the most recent news and notes

- See what Bulls fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Bulls Pulse

Slow start to fourth dooms Bulls in loss to Blazers

Slow start to fourth dooms Bulls in loss to Blazers

With his old teammate Robin Lopez in front of him and his feet at the United Center sign on the floor, Damian Lillard threw caution to the wind as he sensed the end was near.

With redemption on his mind and the Bulls on the ropes, Lillard unleashed a long triple that took the air out of the building with five minutes and pushed the Portland Trailblazers lead to 10.

The Bulls got closer but a few disastrous minutes spelled doom in their 112-110 loss Monday at the United Center, their third defeat in four games as they were without Rajon Rondo, who was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team earlier in the day.

Dwyane Wade scored 34 points with four rebounds and four assists in his return from a one-game rest while Jimmy Butler scored 26 with seven rebounds and five assists but the Bulls shot just 42 percent and committed 15 turnovers, many of them unforced against a defense that isn’t known for stopping opponents.

Lillard hit free throws in the final minute after the Bulls pulled to within three with 18.2 seconds left but his triple was a backbreaker.

It gave the visitors the push they needed after trailing to start the fourth, going on a 13-3 run while the Bulls missed 11 of their 13 shots to start the period, halting a relatively smooth offensive game to that point.

“They made plays, I thought we hung our heads, got a little deflated a bit. You can’t do that,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said.

Without Rondo to perhaps settle them down, much of the burden relied on Wade and Butler to create as Jerian Grant couldn’t repeat his magic from their earlier meeting when he scored 18 and had five steals.

On this night, Grant went one for seven in 23 minutes and amassed just 16 assists, five off their season average.

And when their offense abandoned them, they couldn’t get enough stops against a potent Trailblazers team that loves playing fast and loose. Chicago native Evan Turner hit two big baskets during the run, as he hit five of six on the night to score 11.

“Tonight was an offensive battle and they’re better at that game than us,” Wade said. “You don’t want to lose at home. Just not being aggressive defensively. Can’t let them get to their spots.”

It obscured the fact the Bulls held the Blazers to 47 points in the second half and achieved most of their pregame goals: keeping the Blazers from hitting 10 triples, winning the free-throw battle (38-18) and outscoring them in the open floor (26-9).

The Bulls harassed Lillard into one of his worst shooting nights of the season in a blowout win a few weeks ago and he made amends with a 26-point, seven-assist night.

“We allowed them to get to the basket,” Wade said. “Highest scoring backcourt in the league for a reason.”

He looked to start off on the right foot from the jump, taking advantage of Grant off the dribble, and his backcourt mate C.J. McCollum wasn't far behind.

The Bulls’ defense was confused on rotations, allowing Lillard, McCollum and Allen Crabbe to feast early on. McCollum ran around screens and read a slow-reacting Bulls defense, nailing jumpers over flat-footed defenders.

Crabbe scored 17 off the bench while McCollum hit 10 of 19 to score 24, as the Blazers hit nine triples at 39-percent accuracy.

The trio of guards combined for 45 in the first half and the Bulls needed to make an adjustment.

“We want to get up and put pressure on that team when they get into their stuff,” Hoiberg said. “A high powered backcourt, as high powered as you’re gonna play all year. They got free and hit long, contested two’s. That’s what we wanted to force them into.”

So Butler started the third quarter defending Lillard and it seemed to throw off the Blazers’ rhythm. The Bulls took a 67-66 lead minutes into the second half and held off the duo until McCollum’s 25-foot triple right at the end of the third.

Butler wanted the matchup to start the game but Hoiberg, aware of the rigorous stretch the Bulls are in, waited until it was halfway through before unleashing his best defender on Lillard.

He dropped in another two minutes into the fourth to give the Blazers a 90-89 lead.

By then, they were in a dogfight and unable to slow down the hot shooting Blazers.