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.

[PHOTO] Joe Maddon, Miguel Montero patch things up over a drink

[PHOTO] Joe Maddon, Miguel Montero patch things up over a drink

Despite the Cubs ending their 108-year World Series drought, Miguel Montero made offseason headlines for all the wrong reasons when he complained about his role in the Cubs' 2017 championship campaign.

Montero criticized Maddon's communication skills, catching rotation and bullpen decision-making after the team's Grant Park celebration. Maddon brushed off the criticism, and last week at spring training Montero said he hadn't spoke with the Cubs' skipper.

That tension appears to be all but a thing of the past, as Montero posted this picture of him and his manager sharing a drink together sporting nothing but smiles.

It's safe to say Montero would describe his relationship with Maddon now as: #WeAreGood.

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks clash with Wild tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks clash with Wild tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Minnesota Wild tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

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Five Things to Watch:

1. Road warriors.

The Blackhawks have won six straight games away from the United Center, and are looking to make it a seventh in Minnesota tonight. They've scored the game's first goal in four of those wins, and in the other two, overcame 1-0 deficits to beat Dallas 5-3 and Edmonton 5-1, the latter of which they scored five unanswered goals.

2. Corey Crawford vs. Devan Dubnyk.

Crawford hasn't quite been the same since undergoing an emergency appendectomy on Dec. 3, but he turned in probably his best outing since then in the Blackhawks' last meeting against Minnesota on Feb. 8 when he stopped 35 of 38 shots in a 4-3 overtime win. He essentially stole two points, and prevented the Wild from picking up the extra one. Across from him tonight will be Dubnyk, who leads the league in wins (32), goals against average (1.97) and save percentage (.934).

3. Jonathan Toews on fire.

After a tough offensive drought earlier in the season that lasted longer than expected, the Blackhawks captain has six goals and 10 assists in his last 12 games, and upped his point total to 37, which now ranks fifth on the team. In the last meeting against Minnesota two weeks ago, Toews had a three-point night and scored the game winner in overtime. 

4. Mikael Granlund among league's most underrated players.

File Granlund under the category of players who don't get enough attention. He has 17 goals and 36 assists in 58 games this season, and his 53 points is tied with Jeff Carter and Artemi Panarin for 13th in the NHL's scoring race. The next highest point total on the Wild is Eric Staal with 45, an eight-point gap between him and Granlund. The 24-year-old forward registered his first career hat trick earlier this month, and also had a 12-game point streak just two weeks ago.

5. Ryan Hartman's closing in on 15 goals.

In Saturday's 3-1 loss to Edmonton, Hartman defended his teammate by fighting an Oilers defenseman that was practically twice his size. He called it a "no-brainer" to stick up for Tanner Kero and did well in the scrap, but it led to an Oilers power play and 10-minute misconduct which didn't do the Blackhawks any favors. He responded in a great way Sunday by scoring the game's first goal that helped his team win 5-1 in Buffalo. The next goal he scores will be No. 15, which would give the Blackhawks six 15-plus goal scorers on the year. They had only four a season ago.

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