Ailing Bulls remain focused heading into Game 6

Ailing Bulls remain focused heading into Game 6
May 2, 2013, 1:30 pm
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Mark Strotman

Derrick Rose has been ruled out for tonight’s Game 6 against the Brooklyn Nets, and starting point guard Kirk Hinrich is “likely out,” Tom Thibodeau said this afternoon at the Bulls’ Thursday morning shoot-around. Luol Deng (illness) and Taj Gibson (illness) will be game-time decisions.

Hinrich missed Game 5 after suffering a contusion to his left calf in the late stages of the Bulls’ thrilling 142-134 triple-overtime victory in Game 4. Hinrich hoped the injury would heal quicker but was limping noticeably in a walking boot earlier in the week.

[RELATED: Bulls aim to close out series in Game 6]

Thibodeau did not announce his starting lineup but said there was a possibility it would remain the same, with sixth man Nate Robinson filling the void at the point. Robinson scored 20 points and handed out eight assists in his Game 5 start, but struggled to stay in front of Deron Williams, who contributed 23 points and 10 assists in Brooklyn’s 110-91 win.

And while Hinrich’s defense and distributing are to the Chicago lineup, the potential of missing Deng and Gibson could be a back-breaker for the Bulls in the series. Neither player practiced Wednesday or took part in Thursday morning’s shoot-around. If both are unable to suit up, Jimmy Butler likely would move to small forward to make room for Marco Belinelli in the lineup.

No matter who takes the United Center court tonight, Thibodeau said, his team must play with a sense of urgency to close out the series.

“You have to be mentally tough when you face adversity; we talk about it all the time,” he said. “So we’ve got to respond to the challenge. We’re more than capable. It’s gonna be a tough, hard-fought game and we’ve got to put the sweat into it.”

[RELATED: Bulls aim to close out series in Game 6]

It wasn’t all bad news on the medical report, as Thibodeau said All-Star center Joakim Noah -- who has been battling a bout with plantar fasciitis the entire series -- continues to improve, noting he looked “very good today.” If Gibson is unable to play, Noah may be asked to play more than the 26.4 minutes he averaged in the first five games of the series.

The injuries have piled up on the Bulls all season, but Butler -- one of two Bulls (Robinson) who has played in all 87 games this season -- said the team knows how to deal with it, but it isn’t something they get used to.

“I don’t think you ever get used to it because you always want everybody back,” the second-year swingman said. “When you have people down you still have enough to play with. You’re still gonna have to go out and win games so even if we have everybody, or we’re short-handed, we’re expected to win.”

Tom Thibodeau echoed the same thoughts when asked specifically if Hinrich may miss more time than just tonight: “All we’re thinking about is this game. That’s it. We’re not thinking ahead, behind, just this game. And we’ve had a number of games in which we were down a lot of people, so we know what has to be done.”

[RELATED: Mailbag: Is Thibodeau out-coaching Carlesimo?]

The Bulls hold a 3-2 edge in the series, but with the Nets responding well in their first elimination game, combined with the mounting injuries (and illnesses) Butler said the desperation is picking up for both teams.

“They don’t want to lose, we don’t want to lose. It’s two tough teams that have been battling it out all series,” he said. “They want to take it to a Game 7, obviously, and we don’t. It’s gonna be a game of will tonight; who wants it more on both ends of the floor.”

As most closely-contest playoff series become, the Bulls and Nets have played with more of an edge in the last two games. Brooklyn forwards Gerald Wallace and Andray Blatche declared their team the better of the two, and Gibson responded by saying the Bulls were tougher. Butler stayed away from the media battle, saying the 48 minutes in Game 6 will decide superiority.

“I like my Bulls’ team. You can’t like any other team. It’s a competitive sport. You don’t go out there and make friends and you want to beat the opposing team. So while the game’s going on no friends; your only friends are your teammates. When it comes in between those lines it’s all business,” Butler explained.