SACRAMENTO -- Taj Gibson is getting antsy.
The Bulls’ top reserve sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee during the fourth quarter a road loss in Oklahoma City back on Feb. 24 and was expected to be out for two weeks.
That timetable passed Sunday, when the Bulls fell to the Lakers -- not far from Gibson’s collegiate home, the University of Southern California -- and still, the active, defensive-oriented big man isn’t back in the lineup.
“I was running sprints yesterday. It’s progressing. I was able to shoot with the team. It’s still a little trouble, but we’re getting over the hump and we’re kind of feeling good about ourselves, but I still can’t wait to get back out there,” he explained before the Bulls’ Wednesday-morning shootaround at Sleep Train Arena.
“I’m hopeful, but every time we get close, it’s like exactly what Derrick’s been getting. Hamstrings, different things tend to bother you, but it’s all about gaining strength. We’re trying to make sure we don’t push it too hard, but it’s making progress.
“I’m out there, just going hard every day, but the only thing about it, once you go hard, it’s going to be a minor setback because once you go hard the one day, the next morning, it’s sore and that’s my problem,” continued Gibson, wearing a USC sweatsuit. “I’ve been going hard, like I want to get back out there bad and they know that, so I just listen to the training staff. Like yesterday, I was going extremely hard. I tried to do every drill, but it still hurts. But continue to push through and hopefully I’ll get back in the next couple days.
“I was joining in a lot of drills [at Tuesday’s practice in Los Angeles], then they shut me down. But that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to just keep pushing, trying to work hard; doing all the small things they want me to do to try to get back faster. Icing, like nine times a day,” he explained. “I’m just trying to get back as quick as possible because I see how the team is playing and when you watch from the sidelines, you can see things that you can help your team do and want to do, so I’m just trying to get back.
“We’ve got training staff members who worked for the 49ers, who’ve been around football injuries. They said it’s more typical of a football injury and they’re really on top of it. We really work hard every day, twice a day, and trying to get back,” he primary backup to both Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer went on to say. “I’m still wearing the knee brace because they tell me I have to just push through the small things to try to loosen it up and every day, we’re making strides.
“Every day, we do something different, something better and it’s a relief because I don’t like sitting on the sidelines. I don’t like sitting, being hurt. It’s the worst feeling, knowing that you can’t do anything but just have to let it heal on its own. It’s like pulling hair out. Thank God I don’t have any hair on my head now because it’s stressful, every day,” Gibson said.
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau acknowledged that both Gibson and injured starting point guard Kirk Hinrich -- the veteran, who has a sore right foot, was able to shed his walking boot -- are likely out for Wednesday night’s matchup with the Kings.
“[Gibson and Hinrich were able to do] a little bit more [during Tuesday’s practice],” the coach said. “They’re making progress. Still don’t know. We’ll see what we can get done today, but they’re moving along, so it was good to see them shooting and doing a little bit of running.”
Hinrich’s multiple absences over the course of the season have been well-documented -- he’s had seven separate ailments sideline him -- and when he’s out of the lineup, it’s clear that the Bulls have struggled with shot distribution and an overall stagnant offense, as well as his defensive contributions.
But although Gibson is certainly appreciated, it’s easy to underrate what he brings to the table on both ends of the floor, from upper-echelon defensive presence and his energetic athleticism, to the less obvious, such as his ability to guard multiple positions and willingness to at least attempt mid-range jumpers, not to mention the positive spirit he imbues his teammates with.
A player who the Bulls signed to a 10-day contract and appeared to provide a reasonable facsimile of Gibson’s diverse talents, veteran forward Lou Amundson, opted to sign with New Orleans for the remainder of the season rather than sign another 10-day deal after playing sparingly for the Bulls.
Thibodeau was unsure about whether or not the Bulls would add a 15th player to their roster.
“We’ll see. Hopefully we have guys coming back and if it makes sense for us to add someone, we will,” he said. “If not, I’m good with what we have. I feel very good about our team.”
Meanwhile, the coach is more concerned with trying to right the ship presently, as his team, losers of six of their last 10 games, faces a down-on-its-luck Sacramento squad that he refuses to overlook, just like every Bulls opponent in the league.
“They can really score the ball and they have a lot of guys who can go off the dribble,” Thibodeau said. “They have a lot of weapons and they can score the ball.”
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