Back in old role, Hinrich's Wizards host Bulls

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Back in old role, Hinrich's Wizards host Bulls

Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010
11:57 a.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

WASHINGTONIt took a trade of the former face of his new franchise and an injury to the teams star of the future, but Kirk Hinrich is back to playing his natural position of point guard. With Gilbert Arenas now in Orlando and No. 1 pick John Wall sidelined with a knee injury, Captain Kirk is the Wizards primary ballhandlerthe formerly guard-heavy team now lacks capable ballhandlers, forcing them to sign free agent Lester Hudson, whom they waived after the preseasonand hes acquitted himself well, leading Washington to a convincing rout Monday over Charlotte and a frustratingly close loss Saturday to Miami, in which the young team snatched defeat out of the grasp of victory.

It might be a distant memory now, but Hinrich was once of the leagues up-and-coming point guards, highly regarded enough of a floor general to be selected to USA Basketballs 2006 FIBA World Championships team. Then the Bulls drafted Derrick Rose and Hinrich, always a selfless team player and possessing the versatility to slide over to shooting guard, made way for the young superstar.

As a shooting guard, Hinrich is undersized and not a consistent enough shooter or truly offensive-minded enoughas a shooter, although his point-guard instincts lend themselves to the occasional spree of overdribblingto present problems for most opponents as a scoring threat. On the defensive end, which has become his calling card, Hinrich gives his counterparts fits with his quickness and determination, but for most elite shooting guardswho usually possess a size advantagehes more of a pesky defender than a stopper.

As a point guard, while he wasnt on the top-tier level of a Steve Nash or Chauncey Billups, Hinrich, in his heyday, had excellent size for his position, his pass-first nature often created an unselfish team and often paired with Ben Gordon in the backcourt, his defensive talents made up for his backcourt mates shortcomings on that end of the floor with his ability to guard both positions.

Traded to Washington in the offseason to clear further salary-cap space for Chicago, Hinrich was third on the depth chart at his natural position to start the season and actually started his preseason return to the United Center at small forward, back when Wizards coach Flip Saunders was compelled to start games with a college-like three-guard set. He appeared to be clearly out of place with the Wizards, with Wall a jet-quick, shooting-deficient, ball-dominating point guard in the mold of Rose as a rookie and Arenas simply used to playing in a shoot-first, dribble-second, pass-third mode.

Wall will eventually return to the lineupalthough Saunders confirmed at Wednesday mornings shootaround that there was no change with the No. 1 overall pick status for the evenings gamebut for the time being, Hinrich is back to playing the position where he excelled as a high school All-American, a collegiate star at Kansas and the early portion of his Bulls career.

Im more comfortable playing point guard, Hinrich said at the Wednesdays Wizards morning shootaround, in a hallway outside the teams Verizon Center practice court. I feel like I can play both positions, but Im definitely a little more comfortable kind of running the show.

An understatement to say the least, but thats always been Hinrichs way. A Bulls fan since his youth in Iowa, his disappointment at being traded awayto a young, non-contending team, at thatwas palatable, but after so much speculation in recent years that Chicago would move him and his hefty contract out of town, he couldnt have been too taken aback, although if rumored trades to the likes of the Celtics or Lakers would have happened, the move would have been a bit easier to swallow.

Always a professional, Hinrich looked for a silver lining in the recently improved play of his team and claimed his focus is on the present, not the past.

We need to come out with the same mindset, same sense of urgency and go out there and share the ball, help each other on both ends and hopefully we can get a win, said Hinrich. Ive just been trying to kind of focus on us. I havent been paying too much attention to them the Bulls, except for yesterday and today, when were getting ready to play them. But just from what Ive seen, theyre playing hard. Defensively, theyre good. Theyve got some good players and theyre playing well, so its definitely going to be a challenge.

Its not so strange anymore to play against the Bulls. Ive been here for a while now and Im comfortable, so its not as strange as it was earlier in the year.

Being back in a familiar role certainly makes that easier.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Morning Update: Bulls win first meeting with Cavs; LeBron pays off Cubs-Indians bet

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USA TODAY

Morning Update: Bulls win first meeting with Cavs; LeBron pays off Cubs-Indians bet

Here are some of Friday's top stories in Chicago sports:

Saturday on CSN: Bradley vs. Nevada; Illinois State vs. New Mexico

Dwyane Wade, Bulls take first blood with LeBron James, Cavs

Bears-49ers: And the winner is?

Jonathan Toews practices but won’t play vs. Flyers

For Cubs, winter meetings will be all about the hunt for pitching 

White Sox reportedly asking for No. 1 prospect plus more in trade return for Chris Sale

'Quarterback' Rajon Rondo executes Bulls' game plan, logs first triple-double of the year

White Sox agree to one-year deals with Brett Lawrie, Avisail Garcia

LeBron James pays off bet, rocks Cubs uniform to the United Center

High School Lites basketball roundup: Week 1

'Quarterback' Rajon Rondo executes Bulls' game plan, logs first triple-double of the year

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USA TODAY

'Quarterback' Rajon Rondo executes Bulls' game plan, logs first triple-double of the year

Two nights after managing just 90 points in a lackluster home loss to the Lakers, the Bulls entered Friday night’s tilt against the defending-champion Cavaliers with a specific offensive game plan.

Attack, head coach Fred Hoiberg told his team, the interior of the Cleveland defense early to establish a presence in the paint. Knowing the Cavs, for all their strengths that made them NBA champions five months earlier, lacked a true rim protector, the Bulls made it a point to get Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez going.

The Bulls managed to do exactly that, tallying a season-high 78 points in the paint in their 111-105 victory over the Cavaliers. And while Lopez was again his usual efficient self and Gibson turned in his best performance of the season – the two scored 33 points on 15-for-23 shooting – it was point guard Rajon Rondo who proved to be the kick-starter for a Bulls offense that needed to be at its best to match Cleveland’s star power.

Rondo logged his first triple-double with the Bulls in the victory, tallying 15 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists. But looking past the raw numbers, it was the shots Rondo took, and the passes he made, that allowed the Bulls to play so efficiently on offense and ultimately come away with their most impressive victory of the year.

Of Rondo’s 12 assists, all but two of the made shots off those passes came from a distance farther than 7 feet. Ten of Rondo’s assists resulted in baskets in the paint, of which the Bulls had 39 as a team. Squaring off against a subpar defender in Kyrie Irving, Rondo was active in knifing into the paint and finding open bigs inside. Rondo had six assists in the first quarter, and all but one resulted in baskets within 3 feet of the hoop.

All four of his made field goals in the first half were layups, as was his only bucket in the third quarter. His putback midway through the fourth quarter was also at the rim, and gave him his tenth rebound to secure the triple-double. Two possessions later he connected on a 3-pointer that gave the Bulls an eight-point lead; Cleveland never got closer than four the rest of the way. Rondo only took three shots outside of the paint. Friday marked the first time in a month Rondo had shot better than 50 percent from the field in back-to-back games.

Past Rondo’s own numbers, Gibson said that the Bulls’ point guard was instrumental in leading the Bulls’ offense to match up against a Cavaliers offense that entered the night second in the league in efficiency.

“He’s like a quarterback. Even though he never really played any contact football the way he always gathers the huddle, he always sees what’s going on in the game,” Gibson said. “He’s always encouraging. He’s pushing it. He’s a great teammate and I know he got a lot of criticism before the year, a lot of people talk about the negative that’s in it, but he’s been showing me nothing but great stuff on and off the court.”

In a game that had a playoff-like atmosphere to it simply because of the matchup between Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, as well as the defending champs coming to town, the veteran Rondo took it upon himself to lead the Bulls offense. Though the Bulls wanted to avoid getting into a track meet against the fast-paced Cavs, Rondo didn’t allow the offense to become stagnant when it was apparent they could get into the paint at will.

“I thought Rondo was great all night long,” Fred Hoiberg said, “getting guys out and running, pushing them. You can hear him yelling “run with me” to get the guys down the floor. Rajon was a huge factor.”

His defense will continue to be a liability – Irving had an off-night shooting more than anything – and he won’t score 15 points each night, but his leadership and ability to run an offense with precision has the Bulls behind their floor general as they head into the season’s second month.

“He’s always inspiring. He’s one of those guys you want to go to war with. He’s one of those guys that’s in the huddle, you know that every time down the court if it’s a wrong call, a foul, a scuffle, if you not feeling right he’s always going to have your back no matter what.”