Hinrich day-to-day as Bulls prepare for Celtics

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Hinrich day-to-day as Bulls prepare for Celtics

DEERFIELD, ILL.After suffering a right hip strain in the first half of Saturday nights Bulls home win over Minnesota, starting point guard Kirk Hinrich underwent an MRI Sunday morning, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau revealed. No determination has been made yet, but its unlikely that the veteran suits up in Monday nights contest against the Boston Celtics at the United Center.

He had an MRI this morning, Thibodeau explained after the teams Sunday-afternoon practice at the United Center. I still havent talked to Bulls head trainer Fred Tedeschi, other than its a strain and right now, hes day-to-day.

Backup point guard Nate Robinson would assume Hinrichs starting duties in the event that the starter is indeed sidelined. Robinson, who scored 18 points in a relief effort Saturday, played for Boston during parts of two season, including the Celtics 2010 run to the NBA Finals, where they lost to the Lakers, and part of his role included guarding All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo in practice.

Watching him over the years, just being a fan of basketball, great player. He gets everybody involved and he has a great motor to his game, so Ive got my hands full, but Im ready, said Robinson, who compared playing for Celtics head coach Doc Rivers, a Chicago-area native, to playing for Thibodeau, his former assistant. Just match his intensity, thats about it. Bring the energy, match his intensity and just be ready to play.

Im not trying to make it about me and him. This is a team. Were trying to win the game, were trying to beat the Celtics. Its not me vs. Rondo, its the Bulls vs. the Celtics, he continued after Sundays practice. Hes become a better shooter, as everybody can see. Over the years, hes getting better, more confidence. He knows hes good and thats one thing you need as a basketball player, first and foremost. Know that youre capable of being a great player and hes understood that.

Added Thibodeau: The next guy has to get the job done, so Natell be ready. Nates been around, Nates played against him.

Rondos a great player, but theyre a lot more than just Rondo. Its a very talented team, a very deep team, so we have to be ready for that challenge, the coach went on to say. Rondo, hes a great player. Each year, hes gotten better, hes very smart and theres not anything he cant do. Hes a great playmaker, he can score when he has to, hes a tremendous defensive player, He keeps a lot of pressure on you at all times.

Boston has started out slow this season, as the Celtics are prone to do, but after a busy offseason that saw them lose future Hall of Famer Ray Allen to the rival Heat in free agency, but add several talented newcomers, Thibodeau is wary of his old team. Of course, the core of the team remainsRondo, go-to scorer Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, now playing center on a full-time basisremains the same.

Theyre deep, theyre really deep. They had a great offseason when you have guys like Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, Leandro Barbosa. Their draft was very productive, Jared Sullinger was a great pickup for them. Theyre two-deep at every position, maybe even more. Rondo has the ability to make everyone better, so does Garnett and you cant overlook how great Paul Pierce is, he said. The four and five in their system are basically interchangeable, so I dont think Garnett playing center is a big adjustment. Hes always had the ability to guard everybody on the floor, but I think his quickness at the five is an advantage, it opens up the floor. He and Bass complement each other extremely well and then, of course when you look at Jeff Green, theres another guyall those guys who are coming off the benchBarbosas been a big-time player, Courtney Lees been a starter on a Finals team, Jeff Green started on an excellent Oklahoma City team. Thats quality depth.

Thibodeau claimed that he places no more importance on playing the Celtics than any other team, being that hes worked for so many NBA franchises during his 20 years as an assistant coach before coming to Chicago. Still, he acknowledged that winning the 2008 title with Boston does make somewhat of a difference.

Ive been with so many teams, so I guess it is good motivation every night, he explained. Its interesting because obviously Doc, the organization, Ive been close with them. You win a championship, you are tied to them, so I appreciate that friendship and what their organization did for me. That being said, that was 2008. That was a long time ago, so I look at the roster now, a lot of those guys are gone. But I always have a special spot for them. Its a great organization, Docs a close friend of mine. I wish them well all the time, expect when they play us.

In a light moment Sunday, Thibodeau displayed his humorous side when asked about Hinrichs rivalry with Rondo. For those who dont recall, the two feisty guards got into an altercation during the epic 2009 first-round playoff series between the Bulls and Celtics.

Oh, thats nothing. Those are the good old days, joked Thibodeau, a Celtics assistant coach at the time. To take a line from John Paxson, I dont recall.

Hinrichs potential absence means that rookie Marquis Teague will get more of an opportunity moving forward. Thibodeau was complimentary of the first-round draft picks performance Saturday and is pleased with his progress overall.

I think its just learning the NBA game, learning his teammates, learning the system. Its a big jump going from college from the pros, so hes right where he should be. He gets there early, he stays late. I think hes starting to develop more confidence, he put a lot of work in, Thibodeau said. Hes got to run the team, so in order to run the team, you have to know what your job is and then, youve got to be able to do your job. Then, hes got to be able to do it every day. Hes got to be able to do it in practice, in games, whenever youre called upon. Like yesterday, he didnt play in the first half, called upon and was ready to go. Thats what we expect from him.

Hes figuring it out. Part of it is knowing what our schemes are, part of it is knowing the opponent and what the team is trying to get accomplished, and hes starting to figure that out. His individual defense is actually pretty good. Hes learning more because everything is done in a team scheme. If one guy is breaking down, its going to hurt your scheme, so away from the play, hes still figuring that out. Hes got the initial part down, but hes got great instincts, great quickness, very intelligent and so, I think as he reads things more, I think he can be very disruptive and so, I want him to play to his strengths.

One potential area of concern for the Bulls is the recent play of the slumping Carlos Boozer. The starting power forward shot 0-for-5 from the field Saturday night, but Thibodeau said he was unconcerned.

If you look at his plus-minus, its a plus. His rebounding was very good. His team defense in the third quarter was excellent. Guys go through that. When the balls not going in, you do other things. Hell come around. Hes already proven what hes capable of doing. Hes just got to get some easy scores and once that happens, hell be fine.

In or out of the NCAA tournament? Where every Big Ten team stands with one week left in the regular season

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USA TODAY

In or out of the NCAA tournament? Where every Big Ten team stands with one week left in the regular season

There's one week to go in the Big Ten regular season.

Thing is, though that means just two games apiece for the 14 teams, seemingly nothing has been determined yet. Just a game separates Purdue and Wisconsin at the top of the standings, and a trio of squads — Maryland, Minnesota and Michigan State — are tied for third place a game behind the the Badgers. Mathematically, any one of those five could win at least a share of the Big Ten title.

The picture isn't much clearer when it comes to the NCAA tournament. The teams that were locks a week ago are mired in losing stretches now, and teams that figured to be on the bubble are rising in the standings, creating an entirely new group of bubble teams.

This year has been a mediocre one for the conference, making it hard to peg which groups belong in the field of 68 or not. Seemingly, though, that's a national trend, and ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi had seven Big Teams in his projection on Monday.

With one week left in the regular season, here's a team-by-team look at who it looks like will go dancing, who doesn't have a chance and who still might have some work to do.

Illinois Fighting Illini

In or out: Hard to say

John Groce's team is surging, blowing out Nebraska over the weekend to pick up its fourth win in its last five games. That stretch includes two wins over a stumbling Northwestern team, wins that are unfortunately losing heft as the Wildcats keep piling up late-season losses. But there's no doubting that the Illini are playing a much better brand of basketball lately, with defense powering wins. The last two Illinois opponents have scored fewer than 60 points. Playing better against the likes of Nebraska and Iowa won't mean much without a signature win in there. Wednesday night brings an opportunity against Michigan State. Win that one, and the Illini would suddenly — and miraculously, given a 3-8 start to conference play — be in the conversation for a spot in the Dance.

Indiana Hoosiers

In or out: Hard to say

For some reason, the Hoosiers have remained in the "will they or won't they" conversation despite a dreadful season. Saturday night's win over Northwestern stopped Indiana's five-game losing streak, but with the Cats mired in their own losing stretch — and blowing that game with a last-second foul — how impressive is that win, exactly? Indiana sticking on the NCAA tournament bubble despite its 6-10 conference record and current 10th-place standing is a little head-scratching, but it's hard also to completely discount the resume, which features those early season non-conference wins over Kansas and North Carolina. A win like those the rest of the way — like in Tuesday night's bout with rival Purdue — could crank the conversation up surrounding the Hoosiers' candidacy for a spot in the Dance.

Iowa Hawkeyes

In or out: Out

It was a brief flirtation with the NCAA tournament bubble for the Hawkeyes, but it looks like Fran McCaffery's young team will have to wait till next year. Maybe things change if Iowa deals yet another loss to Wisconsin on Thursday night. After all, the Hawkeyes already have wins over Purdue, Michigan and Maryland teams all seemingly destined for the Dance. But with a max 18 possible wins in the regular season, would that be enough to even start the conversation? After all, these selection-committee folks have a long memory (as evidenced by the fact that they're still talking about Indiana), and Iowa had that disastrous run during non-conference play where it dropped five of six. It would seem Hawkeyes' fans' eyes should be on next season's tournament.

Maryland Terrapins

In or out: In

Mark Turgeon's team is on a three-game losing streak after getting thumped good by Iowa over the weekend. But already with double-digit wins in the conference and a whopping 22 wins overall, it would seem nothing could knock the Terps out of the field of 68. That doesn't mean, of course, that their seed won't take a beating from this losing stretch, which has featured losses in five of their last seven games.

Michigan Wolverines

In or out: In

The Wolverines seemingly played their way into the Dance with a big win over Purdue on Saturday. Michigan is one of the hottest teams in the conference right now, a winner in five of its last six games. From flirting with disaster to a surefire lock, Michigan is a No. 8 seed in Lunardi's latest projection, and that number could go even higher if the Wolverines keep things going. The two games that remain on the regular-season schedule come on the road, where Michigan has won only twice this season. But those games are against a struggling Northwestern team and a beatable Nebraska team. If the Wolverines win both games, that's closing the season on a seven-out-of-eight run to produce an even more favorable Big Ten Tournament matchup. Talk about getting hot at the right time.

Michigan State Spartans

In or out: In

Much like their in-state rivals, a big win over the weekend figured to secure a tournament spot for the Spartans, who took care of business against a stumbling Wisconsin team on Sunday in East Lansing. A team that's found itself in that "last four in" discussion this season seems safe with a No. 9 seed in Lunardi's latest projection. A brutal non-conference season that featured five losses will stick in the memory of the committee, but since Sparty has picked up wins over Michigan, Northwestern, Wisconsin and two over currently red-hot Minnesota. Freshmen Nick Ward, Miles Bridges and Cassius Winston are playing real well right now, and Michigan State has won four of its last five. Holding off Illinois on Wednesday night would do the Spartans a lot of good. A win this weekend over Maryland might lock things up.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

In or out: In

There's no Big Ten team hotter than the Gophers, who have won seven straight, a streak that includes wins over tourney-goers Maryland and Michigan. Minnesota's playing great on the offensive end and scoring a lot of points. More importantly it's redeeming a midseason five-game losing streak that had at least this observer questioning what all the fuss was about. Well, there's no questioning that anymore, and the resume looks terrific: a 12-1 non-conference record with a win over Arkansas and the only loss to Florida State, plus a potential top-four finish in the Big Ten with wins over Purdue, Northwestern, Michigan and Maryland. The cherry on top would be a win in the regular-season finale over rival Wisconsin. Oh, and given their current streaking, the Gophers might be the favorite heading into the Big Ten Tournament.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

In or out: Out

Conference play started with such promise for the Huskers, who won their first three Big Ten games. But they've won just three Big Ten games since and at 6-10 are tied with three others in the second-to-last spot in the conference standings. Glynn Watson Jr. and Tai Webster have been good this year, but it'll be a third straight year without an NCAA tournament trip. But considering that Tim Miles-led appearance was the program's first since 1998, there's certainly no reason for Nebraska brass to have anything but full confidence in its head coach.

Northwestern Wildcats

In or out: Hard to say

Maybe I'm being an alarmist, but Northwestern's crash-and-burn finish to the regular season puts into question what was very recently lock status for the Wildcats. Chris Collins' crew was 7-2 in the Big Ten when Scottie Lindsey had to take a four-game absence with mono. Since, the Cats have lost five of seven — including two to Illinois — and can't do a thing at the offensive end. Saturday night's collapse at Indiana was the latest and most painful way Northwestern has lost during this recent stretch. The final two regular-season games come in Evanston, but they're against really good Michigan and Purdue teams. It's not difficult to envision the regular season ending in a four-game losing streak with losses in seven of nine. Would that be enough to kick Northwestern out of the field of 68? It remains to be seen. Lunardi still has the Cats at a No. 10 seed a week after assuring everyone they were a lock. If they keep losing — and what if that includes their first game of the Big Ten Tournament, too? — will he have to change his rosy outlook?

Ohio State Buckeyes

In or out: Out

The worst year of the Thad Matta Era is about to come to a merciful end. A 10-3 non-conference season with losses to UCLA and Virginia set the Buckeyes up for a potential tourney run, but they started league play with a four-game losing streak and never recovered, just last week snapping a three-game losing streak with a win over Wisconsin. There's a chance to end the season on a positive note with two winnable games left against Penn State and Indiana. That could dig Ohio State out of the bottom four and avoid the dreaded Wednesday games in the Big Ten Tournament. But certainly right now, nothing seems possible — short of an unexpected conference-tournament run to a championship — that would vault it into the Big Dance.

Penn State Nittany Lions

In or out: Out

There are a lot of reasons to be excited in Happy Valley, and it looks like 2018 is a real possibility for the program's first NCAA tournament appearance since 2011. It won't be 2017, though, as everyone can tell. But the play of Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens, not to mention plenty of other guys who aren't Philly freshmen, has to have people pleased with the direction Patrick Chambers is taking his program. Winnable games remain against Ohio State and Iowa, plus there's potential noise to be made in the Big Ten Tournament. It could all end up with just the second above-.500 finish of the Chambers Era.

Purdue Boilermakers

In or out: In

One of the most obvious locks in the conference, the Boilers will likely enter the Big Ten Tournament as the popular pick to win the whole thing, and they'll likely enter the NCAA tournament with the best chance of any Big Ten team to make the deepest run. That being said, not everything is perfect in West Lafayette. Purdue is coming off a weekend loss to Michigan, that after sweating out a midweek overtime win at Penn State. Both those games came away from home, and getting back to Mackey for Tuesday night's showdown with rival Indiana should be a positive for Matt Painter's bunch. The regular-season wraps against a stumbling Northwestern team in Evanston. There's no reason to doubt the Boilers will get an invite to the Big Dance, but already the selection committee's boxing out of the Big Ten from its top 16 a few weeks back looks prophetic.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

In or out: Out

Yes, Rutgers is still residing in the 14th spot in the Big Ten standings, but in the first year under new head coach Steve Pikiell, the Knights have certainly played better than their record indicates. That doesn't mean they'll upset Maryland or Illinois in this final week or that they won't finish with just two league wins. But if Pikiell's group can get just one more win this week or in the Big Ten Tournament, it will have doubled last season's win total.

Wisconsin Badgers

In or out: In

The Badgers are a lock, but if they want anything besides a first-round exit, they better figure out what the problem is and fix it fast. If Wisconsin hadn't racked up 21 wins by early February and if the Big Ten wasn't so mediocre this season, this recent stretch of four losses in five games would be looked upon as an epic collapse. Instead, Greg Gard's group is just one game back of first place in the conference standings and could still manage the Big Ten Tournament's No. 1 seed even with this stretch of poor play. Coming off back-to-back road losses to Ohio State and Michigan State, Wisconsin gets its shot at redemption Thursday night against Iowa before a big weekend bout with red-hot Minnesota. The Badgers don't have to worry about their NCAA tournament spot vanishing, but their AP top-25 ranking is about to disappear.

Michal Rozsival, Jordin Tootoo extensions give Blackhawks flexibility at expansion draft

Michal Rozsival, Jordin Tootoo extensions give Blackhawks flexibility at expansion draft

The Blackhawks agreed to one-year contract extensions with defenseman Michal Rozsival and forward Jordin Tootoo, the team announced Tuesday.

Rozsival's deal is worth $650,000 while Tootoo's deal carries a $700,000 cap hit, according to ESPN's Pierre LeBrun.

The move gives the Blackhawks two players eligible to be exposed during this summer's expansion draft.

NHL teams must expose two forwards and one defenseman that have played at least 40 games in 2015-16 or more than 70 in 2016-17, and they must be under contract in 2017-18.

[MORE: The Blackhawks' 9-1 February by the numbers]

Rozsival and Tootoo meet those requirements, which means the Blackhawks can now protect Ryan Hartman, who is also eligible.

They are allowed to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender or eight skaters (regardless of position) and one goaltender. 

Rozsival, 38, has one goal and one assist in 16 games this season, often serving as the team's extra defenseman. Tootoo, 34, has no points in 36 games.