DEERFIELD, ILL. — Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau expects two of his most important players to return to the lineup for the Bulls’ Thursday-evening game against Portland at the United Center.
Veteran point guard Kirk Hinrich, who’s missed seven consecutive games with a stress reaction in his right foot, and top reserve Taj Gibson, who’s been sidelined for 10 straight contest with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee, could be back for the Bulls.
As far as the team’s two other injured players, the erstwhile starting backcourt of Rip Hamilton and Derrick Rose, they continue to recover from a back ailment and a torn left ACL, respectively.
“Kirk did everything, Taj did everything, Rip’s still out, Derrick did everything, so we’ll see tonight,” he said after the team’s morning shootaround, before noting that Rose was “most likely out.”
“The last two days, they’ve done well,” Thibodeau continued, focusing on Hinrich and Gibson. “[Hinrich and Gibson will play] as long as there aren’t any issues. We’re hopeful.
“The challenge for us is to be playing well and to be as healthy as possible. They’re rotation players. I think it’s important to get them going again. We need everybody.”
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The Trail Blazers, whom the Bulls lost to in Portland back in November -- despite appearing to be slipping out of playoff contention in the Western Conference -- are a much-improved team in what was expected to be a rebuilding season.
Although Portland is a young team and doesn’t have much depth, Thibodeau isn’t surprised by the squad’s relative success and spoke highly of the starting lineup and repeat All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, point guard and Rookie of the Year front-runner Damian Lillard, versatile small forward Nicolas Batum, blue-collar shooting guard Wesley Matthews and undersized athletic center J.J. Hickson.
“...Aldridge (is) as good as anybody, in terms of his skill set. He runs the floor great. He’s got a very good post-up game, he can shoot the ball. Batum has emerged into a terrific player. He’s borderline All-Star. Matthews, he’s a monster. I think they’re highly skilled, one through four and when you look at the type of year Hickson has had. Hickson got off to a great start in his career and then he sort of got nicked up a little bit, but he’s back to playing like he did earlier in his career. He’s playing with a lot of confidence and they have good young players.
"Picking up [backup point guard Eric] Maynor was a great addition, Leonard’s played well, so they’re a tough team. They can score the ball,” he explained. “I think [Aldridge] showed in college what a great player he was and he’s been a great player every year in the pros. Batum, same thing. Matthews was the guy who was sort of, I guess under the radar. He’s been terrific his entire career... Aldridge, I think a lot of people thought he’d be really good and the same with Batum, so they’ve done a great job.”