NEW YORK—No Luol Deng and an iffy Kirk Hinrich heading into Saturday night’s Game 7 of the Bulls’ first-round series against the Nets?
Despite having to play in a hostile environment, Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, the Bulls are confident they can beat the odds and advance to the second round, where the defending-champion Heat await the series winner in Miami for Monday’s Game 1, even with Deng still in a Chicago hospital and Hinrich a game-time decision.
[MORE: Ailing Deng back in the hospital]
“Yeah, don’t cry about it. Obviously those are big pieces to our team, but we’ve just got to find a way. It’s exciting,” Joakim Noah said after the Bulls’ morning shootaround Saturday in Manhattan. “We’ve been through a lot this year. A lot of ups and downs, and this is the moment of truth, Game 7 in Brooklyn, this is what it’s all about.”
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau concurred: “Yeah, we’re ready. It’s a Game 7. We should be ready.
“I don’t know about the mood. I just want us ready. I don’t want us to get caught up in all the stuff that doesn’t matter. It’s not about mood, it’s not about who’s saying what. It’s about putting the work into the game to get the job done. That’s all I want guys doing. Concentrate on each every play, give maximum effort and do your job,” he continued. “That’s why you prepare the way you do all season long. I think you begin with the end in mind. You want to build the habits that are necessary, so when you do get into these situations, it’s a habit. You’re comfortable with it, so I think we’ve been a good road team all year and we have to play our best tonight.”
Hinrich chimed in: “This is what you play for: Game 7. Everyone is excited and ready to go.”
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The Bulls starting point guard, who is suffering from a bruised left calf suffered in last Saturday’s triple-overtime win at the United Center, missed the Bulls Games 5 and 6 losses in the series. He will warm up before Game 7, though his status is apparently just as much as a mystery to him as it is to others.
“I don’t know, it’s a good question. Like I said, I’m going to do my best and evaluate it, decide if there is any way I can help, I’m going to give it a go,” Hinrich said. “Game-time decision, go out there and try and move around before the game and make the decision.
“[Taking shots] is pretty much all I’ve done,” the veteran floor general went on to say. “I’m still hopeful. Just get down there tonight and try and do a normal pregame routine, see how it goes.”
Thibodeau added: “We’ll see tonight. I want to see him warm up tonight, see how he is.”
As for Deng, the All-Star small forward remains hospitalized after missing Game 6 in Chicago.
He was sent home from the United Center after suffering complications from a spinal tap used to test him for a form of meningitis, which came up negative, although it left him with debilitating headaches and unable to travel Friday with the Bulls to New York.
“Lu is out,” Thibodeau said. “He hasn’t been cleared [to travel].
“He’s not feeling well,” the coach continued. “He was tested for meningitis and so, we have to wait to see if that test came back negative, but he’s not feeling well.”
On a more positive note, Nate Robinson and Taj Gibson are improving after playing Game 6 with flu-like symptoms, while Noah has made big strides from the beginning of the series, when the All-Star center was severely hampered by his ongoing bout with plantar fasciitis in his right foot.
“Nate’s doing a little better, Taj is a little better, so it’s good,” Thibodeau said. “Jo’s doing well. Doing very well.”
Noah, back in his hometown and in upbeat spirits, was enthusiastic about the Bulls’ opportunity to advance.
“I feel great, ready,” Noah said. “I’m just really happy to be in this situation right now. I feel great. My foot is barely a factor anymore. I don’t know how that happened because I didn’t know that.
“The day before the playoffs I didn’t know if I was going to be able to play, and to be in this situation, I’m not taking it for granted.’’