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The Bulls are hoping to reverse their fortunes from two straight losses to the Miami Heat, but they’ll have to do so again with a short-handed roster.
Starters Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich are “most likely out,” according to coach Tom Thibodeau at this morning’s shootaround at the Berto Center.
[RELATED: Frustrated Deng still has a ways to go]
Thibodeau expressed a sliver of optimism with Hinrich, saying he has made his way to the court in a limited role.
“He’s doing a little bit more,” Thibodeau said. “We’ll see. He’s on the bike, doing a little bit of shooting.”
Thibodeau wouldn’t officially rule out Deng from playing in Game 4 tonight at the United Center, but did note that the All-Star was not feeling well and “didn’t really do much” during shootaround.
Without Hinrich and Deng, Nate Robinson will start at point guardand Jimmy Butler likely will log close to 48 minutes again, while drawing the assignment of league MVP LeBron James.
Robinson has averaged 18.3 points in the series, though he’s shooting just 35 percent (8-of-23) from the field in the Bulls’ last two losses. Butler played all of Games 1 and 3, and has averaged 15.6 points and 7.3 rebounds in the series. He has also made 6-of-11 3-pointers and played inspiring defense on James.
Thibodeau quiet on$35,000 fine
As expected, Thibodeau had no comment on the $35,000 fine he received from the NBA shortly after the team’s practice on Sunday. Thibodeau had strong remarks regarding the officiating in Game 3, and also accused James of flopping after Nazr Mohammed pushed him early in the second quarter. James was given a technical foul on the play for throwing Mohammed down, and Mohammed was ejected, marking the third Bull to be tossed out in the series (Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson in Game 2).
“I’ve got no comment on that,” he said. “We’re just getting ready for Game 4.”
[MORE: Mohammed, Bulls dispute ejection over LeBron shove]
Thibodeau also said he has not heard any word on a possible fine or suspension for Mohammed.
Shutting down the Heat’s newest star
The Bulls rightfully have devoted most of their defensive effort to shutting down All-Stars James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, but the emergence of reserve guard Norris Cole has given Thibodeau’s group yet another player to key in on.
The second-year Cole has scored 18 points in each of Miami’s wins in the series, and has not missed from beyond the arc, making all eight of his attempts. He has made 80 percent (16-of-20) of his field goals in the series, and is shooting an extraordinary 76 percent from beyond the arc in seven playoff games.
"He’s had a very good career. He came in a very accomplished college player, he had a great college career and our background on him from his college days was outstanding,” Thibodeau said of the former Cleveland State star, “and we knew he had all the characteristics that would allow him to continue to improve. Smart, tough, hard-working and has just gotten better and better each year.”
Thus far, the Bulls have had to give Cole most of his outside looks while dealing with the versatile Bosh as well as the profound slashers in Wade and James. That, Thibodeau said, is a pick-your-poison attitude his team must take against the talented Miami roster.
[RELATED -- Bulls notes: Boozer breaks out in Game 3]
“The thing that’s hard, you have to go in and make decisions in terms of what you’re willing to live with because of the obvious greatness of James, Wade and Bosh. So when you look at that you can’t neglect and overlook a guy like Cole, or Ray Allen or a (Udonis) Haslem.
“Those guys — (Shane) Battier — if you’re not paying attention they’re gonna hurt you. So it requires you to make multiple efforts on very possession, you can’t ever let your guard down against them and they put a lot of pressure on you.”
In three games, the Heat reserves have outscored the desperately shallow Bulls bench, 121-49.
With little time for adjustment, Bulls must be more efficient
The Bulls and Heat have now played seven times this season and both teams have a season’s worth of film on their opponent, so it’s tough to make significant adjustments to change the pace. With that in mind, Thibodeau said improvements can be made.
“You’ve got to be more efficient, be a 48-minute team. You add a wrinkle, they add a wrinkle, but the core of what they’re doing is not gonna change, the core of what we’re doing is not gonna change,” he said. “And when you have great players, I don’t think you can give them a steady diet of anything.
“They’ve seen every defense and you have to give them credit; both Wade and James are gonna make players, that’s who they are, so we have to rebound the ball better, have to contain dribble better, have to get back better, a lot of things we can do better. We know in this next one we feel if we do things a little bit better we’ll be in position to win.”