Thibodeau undecided on Rip's fill-in as Bulls enter tough stretch

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Thibodeau undecided on Rip's fill-in as Bulls enter tough stretch

DEERFIELD -- Now that Rip Hamiltons left-foot injury has been diagnosed as a torn plantar fascia -- an ailment that doesn't disappear overnight -- the question is, who starts at shooting guard during the veterans absence? Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau didnt shed much light on the situation following the teams practice Monday at the Berto Center.
Im not sure yet, said the coach, who followed that revelation up with could be, when asked if either second-year swingman Jimmy Butler or backup shooting guard Marco Belinelli would fill in for Hamilton.
Everybody we have has played well at one time or another, so I feel good about that position. Marco has started a lot of games before, Jimmy has played terrific all season long and we have some flexibility, too. Kirk Hinrich, the teams current starting point guard can go to the two, so well be fine, he continued, as injured superstar Derrick Rose periodically popped out, while running sprints under the supervision of the team's training staff.
Were going to look at everything. Were going to take a look at what makes most sense to us and well go from there. But I like the way Jimmys played, Marcos playing better and better, so we have a lot of things going in the right direction right now.
Thibodeau lamented the loss of Hamilton, who is averaging 13.9 points per game and is valuable threat on a mostly scoring-deficient squad. More significantly, hes one of few players on the Bulls that opposing teams have to truly game-plan for defensively.
Well see. Basically, it could be a week, could be two weeks, could be longer. Once Hamilton feels good enough to play, hell be back, Thibodeau said. Its not only scoring, but his playmaking. With that being said, we have more than enough to win with. The next guy has to step up, know what his job is, do his job and get it done.
Hes doing fine, good spirits. He actually worked out today. Hes got some soreness, but hell be fine, he added. You see it more and more. In his case, its better that its torn; that speeds everything up -- thats one of those things, it lingers for a while -- but hell be fine. Hes had a number of different injuries. He understands what he has to go through to get back.
Due to how well Butler has been playing as of late, it wouldnt be surprising to see Thibodeau give Belinelli the nod as the starter, to keep the budding chemistry on the Bulls second unit going. Butler and Taj Gibson have repeatedly energized the Bulls with their defensive prowess and transition scoring off the bench, something Butler himself noted Monday.
I wouldnt mind that at all. I was talking to Griff Bulls assistant coach Adrian Griffin about it and I like being that spark off the bench with Taj. I feel like that gives me a lot more energy. Just running out there with Taj, seeing the energy that he gives off, the big plays that he makes, the hustle plays, I kind of want to be like that coming off the bench, he explained. I dont think I have a case. I just feel like if I start or come off the bench, my job is to bring energy to the team and hit open shots.
To tell you the truth, I never even think about it. I feel like coming off the bench or starting, I feel like we all just want to win the game, so if I come off the bench or play at the end of the game, I just want the Bulls to have more points than our opponent, Butler continued. Im a lot more confident, but I think its because the work that I put in every day that the confidence that my teammates have in me is so much different than in the beginning of the season. The games starting to slow down, Im starting to be more patient, I know where to get on the floor, where to get the ball, so it makes everything a lot easier.
It means a lot because theres a lot more reps, and theres a lot more possessions up and down the court, different plays with different players, so you get the feel for a lot of different things, not only in the game, but the many different teammates that I might play with.
Still, Butler claimed that hes just as in the dark as the rest of us.
That, or Thibodeau swore him to secrecy.
I really do not know. Coach, he hasnt said anything, he deadpanned. Hell let us know tomorrow.
I dont even think Ill have to call my mom. She reads the Internet more than I do, so shell tell everybody before I even get a chance to, the Texas native went on to say. Rips a great player, a great leader and he does a lot of things well for our team, so he definitely will be missed, but hell be coaching us up, hell be there spiritually and on the bench, cheering, and letting everybody know what they could do better. Thats what leaders do.
Thibodeau has been pleased with Butlers progress after he saw scant playing time as a rookie a year ago. His slashing ability, athleticism, toughness and defense have all been boons for the Bulls and while hes still developing as an outside shooter, there are signs -- including a big corner three-pointer down the stretch of the Bulls narrow home win Saturday over Philadelphia -- that he can make an impact in that aspect of the game, as well.
Thibodeau explained: Hes a very good corner three-point shooter, so if its there, I want him to shoot it. I think hes played very smart, hes playing to his strengths. Hes moving extremely well without the ball, hes a great cutter, hes tough on the baseline. Hes done a number of things well. He attacks the basket, gets to the free-throw line, sprints the floor in transition and those are the things we need him to do.
Butler chimed in: Oh, definitely. I think my teammates know that I should take that shot. They know if Im there and if Im open, Im going to take that shot. I think Im going to make it, they think Im going to make it, so Ive just got to get out there and shoot it.
Of course, Belinelli came to Chicago with a reputation as a shooter and although he struggled mightily to begin the season, hes starting to play better as time goes on. Perhaps more important to Thibodeau is the fact that hes starting to grasp the level of defense it takes to be a contributor to the Bulls.
I think hes getting more comfortable and I think his team defense is very good right now, it continues to improve, hes putting a lot of effort into it and thats all we want him to do, just keep improving, the coach said. I think hes got a little more comfortable with everything and hes got experience. I think he knows his opponent well and hes putting forth good effort each and every day.
Its unlikely that Thibodeau follows through on his suggestion that Hinrich is a potential starter at shooting guard -- that decision would mean Nate Robinson would start at point guard, taking away his instant-offense scoring off the bench -- but it isnt completely out of the realm of possibility.
The value of Kirk is that he can defend three positions and it doesnt matter who those three are. Hes a great defensive player. But were going to do whats best for the team, what we feel gives us the best chance to win, Thibodeau said. Well see. Id like to get into a rotation, so guys have an idea when theyre coming in, but well take a look at a lot of different things.
Hinrich, who has significant experience playing both guard positions -- and even functioned as a small forward, at least on the defensive end, during his brief tenure in Washington, playing alongside John Wall and Gilbert Arenas -- is prepared for anything.
Id be comfortable doing whatever. Ive been working on dummy offense at the two a little bit, just so I would know it, he rationalized. I wouldnt have any problem with anything Thibodeau did, to be honest, as long as its what we wanted to do as a team and what direction we wanted to go with that we thought was going to give us the best chance to win.
Still, the veteran seemed to indicate that he believed that either Belinelli or Butler would be playing next to him Tuesday night, when the Bulls host the Pacers in the first of four games in five nights, including a two-game road trip that will see them visit Cleveland and Detroit.
Were still going to run our stuff. Obviously theyre Belinelli and Butler a little bit different than Rip. Both of them have a little bit kind of different games, per se, so either one of them, I think, would fill in nicely and I think were lucky to have guys like that to come off the bench and step up, said Hinrich, who noted that Hamilton was treating it his injury I saw him on the stationary bike a little bit, while the team practiced. They play that spot every day. The only difference would be they would be with the starting unit. Theyre familiar with the system, they know how were going to play and its a matter of coming out and playing.
You can weigh the pros and cons of it all you want. The bottom line is both of them are going to get their minutes. I dont know which unit its going to be with.
Regardless of who starts in the backcourt, the Bulls are aware that their upcoming stretch wont be easy, since after their trio of matchups against Central Division rivals, theyll return home to face one of the leagues top teams in the Knicks -- giving them a pair of back-to-back contests in a four-game span -- and then delve into an even tougher slate during the middle of December. Indiana, which was reeling at the outset of the season, following the loss of go-to scorer Danny Granger, has been much-improved as of late, playing a similar style of ugly basketball to the Bulls, as one of the few teams in the league with a defense thats statistically better than Chicagos.
Theyre playing very well right now. Theyve played well on this trip. Theyve been on the road for a while. They play hard, their defense is terrific, they pound the ball inside, they share the ball, so itll be a good test for us, said Thibodeau.
"Whatever comes your way, you have to be ready for. We had the long West Coast trip with one back-to-back and so, thats a little bit different. Then, it was split for the Milwaukee game. Now, youre dealing with some back-to-backs. I think the whole key is to get ready for your next opponent. Sometimes the schedules going in your favor, sometimes its going against you. But just be ready for each opponent and concentrate on improvement. Thats all we want to do, keep getting better each and every day, and if we do that and were locked into the right things, we will improve.
Hinrich added: Weve got four games in five nights this week, but weve got a big one tomorrow against a division opponent and hopefully we can continue to play well, and continue to get some wins.
I think they Indiana kind of got off to a slow start, but theyre playing really well lately and theyre a very good team.

Are Cubs in the middle of a Giant World Series hangover or about to turn the 2017 season around?

Are Cubs in the middle of a Giant World Series hangover or about to turn the 2017 season around?

Joe Maddon is talking up moral victories in late May – the defending champs keep playing hard – while getting questions about how the 2017 team still needs to create its own identity. 

This is the symbiotic relationship between the Cubs manager and the Chicago media. There is a fine line between giving context and making excuses, overreacting to a small sample size and ignoring the breakdowns in every phase of the game so far.

The Cubs shouldn’t be covered like an NFL team, where every game leads to sweeping conclusions. But at some point this year, the old Bill Parcells line will come true: “You are what your record says you are.”

In many ways, the San Francisco Giants are the model for business/baseball synergy, but even they couldn’t make the playoffs the year after winning the World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014, each time finishing at least eight games out of first place and dealing with the kind of hangover the Cubs are experiencing now, making this four-game series at Wrigley Field a reality check.

“Our guys have a great mindset,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said. “They’re a little frustrated, as anyone would be with how we’re playing, but they have a lot of heart and they really care. I think they know how good they can be and they want to attain that level. There’s no lack of urgency. There’s no complacency because we won last year. 

“There’s also confidence in what we can and will do when guys hit their stride. There’s no panic, but there’s also a lot of guys in there who care about playing up to our capabilities. That’s one of the reasons I have so much trust in this group and a lot of confidence that we’re going to get it straightened out.

“You don’t know when it’s going to happen. You never quite know where the bottom is. You never quite know what catalytic event is going to turn things around.”

Maybe Tuesday night’s 4-1 win will be a springboard, the way the Cubs swept a four-game series against the Giants in August 2015 and kept rolling into the National League Championship Series.

Jon Lester handcuffed the Giants after a 65-minute rain delay, carrying a rotation that began the day with a 4.45 ERA that ranked 17th in the majors. Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward and Anthony Rizzo each homered off Johnny Cueto, showing signs of life for an offense that began the day with a .746 OPS that ranked 14th in the majors and a .229 batting average with runners in scoring position.
 
Everything’s relative in an NL Central where the Cubs (23-21) have the most talent, the most money and the clearest direction at the trade deadline. There will be no buy-or-sell debates within Epstein’s front office or too much worrying about the future.  

“You look at our division right now and you can talk about anybody’s record,” Heyward said. “Whoever’s in first right now, they’re not doing much better than we are. Whoever’s in last, they’re not doing much worse than we are. That’s just kind of how the division’s going right now. 

“We understand that it’s going to be whoever steps up and finishes the season strong (will) come out on top. You kind of get the drift that the wild-card team’s not going to come from this division at this point. There’s a lot of baseball left, obviously, and you can’t pencil anybody in or cancel anybody out. 

“We just got to go out here and keep trying to put it together. Keep being in every ballgame, keep making adjustments and see what it brings.” 

These last two nights at Clark and Addison, the Cubs have also flashed the athleticism, skills and instincts that transformed them into a historic defensive unit last season, which makes the 37 errors and 28 unearned runs through 44 games so puzzling.

“Last year, our starting pitching was excellent,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “Our offense, it had its ups and downs, but largely it was very good and it will be very good this year. But the defense hasn’t been as solid. And last year, it was borderline spectacular. 

“Not only was it clean, but it was also that we made big plays at big times. It just felt like something that happened a lot. This year, we’ve made a lot of mistakes and we haven’t really made those big defensive plays. I don’t have an explanation for that.

“You think of defense as sort of a constant. (But) clearly as a team it’s been like anything else – you go up and down. That was the backbone of our team last year and we need to get back to that point.”

Before getting carried away with a win over Cueto and the Giants, remember this is also a team that has allowed 46 runs in the first inning and needed 12 come-from-behind wins to stay two games above .500. The longest winning streak so far is four games and that happened a month ago. 

“I don’t think that our deficits are because guys don’t show up to play,” Hoyer said. “You give up a two-run homer in the first and now you’re scrambling from behind. The one thing about baseball is I feel like when you’re not hitting, when you’re making some errors, the first thing people point to is: ‘Oh, they look dead. They look tired.’”

The Cubs have been at the .500 mark at eight different points this season – without suffering a major injury and while getting contributions from Triple-A Iowa (Ian Happ, Eddie Butler) and nailing their biggest offseason move (Wade Davis). 

There are reasons why Major League Baseball hasn’t seen a team win back-to-back championships since the New York Yankees became a three-peat dynasty – 1998, 1999, 2000 – on top of their 1996 World Series title.

“I can’t imagine this group – given what they went through last year, given how much they care about each other – (would be) taking anything for granted,” Hoyer said. “I just don’t think we’ve played our best baseball yet. And I think we will.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: How long will Mike Glennon last as the starting QB?

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: How long will Mike Glennon last as the starting QB?

In the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast, Dan Cahill and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. 

The Cubs lineup changes continue. So which young Cub need to play every day? The guys discuss. Plus, Jim Deshaies joins the show live to discuss the state of the Cubs’ rotation.

Mike Glennon is told that this season is his. How long will that last? 

Later, Scott Paddock discusses NASCAR’s big schedule changes for 2018 and how it affects racing at Chicagoland Speedway.

Listen to this edition of the SportsTalk Live Podcast here: