Thibodeau, Bulls ready for opener with healthy Hinrich

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Thibodeau, Bulls ready for opener with healthy Hinrich

DEERFIELD, ILL.First, the good news. Starting point guard Kirk Hinrich will play in the Bulls regular-season opener, apparently with no limitations in the wake of the strained right-groin injury he suffered in the preseason, according to Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau.

Hes fine, the coach said after the teams Tuesday-morning shootaround at the Berto Center. Hes been fine the last two days in practice, so hes good.

Thibodeau has been pleased with how Hinrich has picked up a system thats changed since his original stint in Chicago. Although he was sidelined for two exhibition contestshe also missed a game with a right-thumb injuryHinrich appeared rejuvenated in his return to the Bulls during the preseason.

You judge your point guard by how the team is functioning and so, I thought he set the tone on offense and defense for us. The ball pressure was good, his help defense was good, he kept us organized, he played with a good pace, his willingness to read matchups, read the extra pass, the ability to understand what everybodys strengths and weaknesses are. I thought he had a very good preseason, Thibodeau said. Hes been around. Hes hard-working, hes tough. He gets in early, he stays late. Hes done a good job.

Now, the negative situation surrounding the Bulls on Halloween. The organization has an 11 p.m. Central time deadline to reach an agreement with valuable reserve Taj Gibson on a long-term contract extension.

The desire for Gibson to remain in Chicago is mutual, but the two sides have had a gap when it comes to closing the deal, though it should be noted that the Bulls would be able to match opposing offers next summer, if the fourth-year player were to hit the open market. Thibodeau believes Gibson is doing a good job of not letting the ongoing negotiations between the franchises front office and his Chicago-based agent, Mark Bartelstein, affect his play.

Hes handled it well. Hes just focused on playing, Thibodeau said of Gibson, whose peers in the 2009 draft class have found it hard to get extensions, though Golden States Stephen Curry reportedly reached a deal Tuesday morning and Denvers Ty Lawson, another point guard, agreed to terms Monday. Thats the business side and his agent will take care of that for him. Hes done a good job in practice and getting ready.

As for the Bulls opponent Tuesday, the Sacramento Kings, Thibodeau isnt underestimating the young team. Despite a mediocre record last season and low expectations for this campaign, Thibodeau lauded their talent and depth.

Theyre dangerous. They can put a lot of points on the board and they have a lot of weapons. DeMarcus Cousins skill set is unique. Jason Thompson is very underrated. Former Bull James Johnson has gotten better every year in the league, he said. Former NBA Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans can hurt you off the dribble, in the post, catch and shoot, athletic, runs the floor. Fellow Seattle native Nate Robinsons protg Isaiah Thomas, big-time scorer, had a great year as a rookie last year and they added Aaron Brooks, whos started a lot of games. Marcus Thornton is a big-time scorer off the bench. Travis Outlaws been a very good player in the league. Chuck Hayes is one of those guys I dont think you can ever measure him statistically; he can guard all five positions, hes a terrific passer, great rebounder. Thomas Robinsons a good young player.

This team, theyre very talented. Theyre talented, theyre deep and they can score. Were going to be challenged. We have to be ready.

While Evanswho is in the same boat as Gibson, but is reportedly seeking a max-level contract and is unlikely to receive onewas viewed as the future of the Kings after he drew Oscar Robertson comparisons as a rookie, Cousins has taken over that role. The volatile big man, who played alongside Gibson in July with the USA Select Team in Las Vegas, has quietly developed into one of the leagues top young post players.

Theres not much he cant do. He can face you up and he can shoot, he can post, he can pass. You dont realize how quick he is and athletic. On ball reversal, if youre not careful, hell jump out in the passing lane. He can handle the ball. Hes a basketball player, praised Thibodeau, using one of injured superstar Derrick Roses go-to phrases to describe a well-rounded player. Ive been very impressed with him.

While Thibodeau was pleased with some of his teams progress during the exhibition season, he still feels the team has a long way to go, regardless of its 5-2 preseason mark. The coach didnt go as far as using the old axiom that the preseason doesnt matter, but hes been focused on the Bulls being consistent.

Each game reveals something to you, but it doesnt stop. We want to keep evolving as it goes along, so youre going to learn more about how guys function together, what gives us our best chance, he said. That never ends and I think youre constantly studying and evaluating the team, and the game tells you the things youre doing well and the things youre not doing well, and for us, I dont want us to change what were doing. I want us to concentrate on improvement. I think we have an understanding of what we have to do to be successful and I want to make sure were moving in that direction every day.

Blown out by Iowa, Maryland stumbles to third straight loss

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USA TODAY

Blown out by Iowa, Maryland stumbles to third straight loss

It's been a tough week for the teams at the top of the Big Ten standings.

Maryland and Wisconsin both lost earlier this week, and Purdue lost on Saturday afternoon. Saturday night, the horrors continued for the Terps, who suffered their third straight defeat in a blowout 83-69 loss to the visiting Iowa Hawkeyes in College Park.

Maryland's last lead came near the midway point of the first half before Iowa sprinted away on a 22-10 run to build a double-digit lead, an advantage that grew as big as 22 in the final minutes. All in all, the Hawkeyes knocked down 16 3-pointers. The Terps weren't too far behind with 11 deep balls of their own, but they shot just 40.7 percent in the second half, unable to keep up.

The high-scoring Hawkeyes were powered by freshman Jordan Bohannon, who scored 24 points on a whopping eight made 3-pointers. Fellow freshman Tyler Cook joined him with a 20-point night, finishing with 21 points, while Peter Jok and Nicholas Baer each ended with 11.

Iowa, not completely out of the NCAA tournament realm of possibility, helped its shaky case greatly with this victory.

Maryland, meanwhile, is a lock to make the field of 68 teams, but much like the other presumed conference powers, its struggles are hitting at the most inopportune time.

The Terps have lost five of their last seven and three of their last four at home. Back-to-back home losses this week against Minnesota and Iowa have featured big days for opposing offenses. Prior to the Hawkeyes' performance Saturday, the Golden Gophers dropped 89 points on 50-percent shooting.

The woes of Maryland — plus those of Purdue and Wisconsin — set up not just an interesting final week of the regular season but an interesting Big Ten Tournament that could feature a dark horse like Minnesota entering as the favorite. A surging team like Michigan might be more capable of making a deep run than the top three seeds given their recent struggles.

The Terps will have as good a chance as any to make noise in that tournament and the one that follows throughout the month of March. Winnable games against Rutgers and Michigan State remain, but they're on a bad stretch right now, one that should only elevate the panic after Saturday's defeat.

Discomfort sidelines White Sox infielder Brett Lawrie

Discomfort sidelines White Sox infielder Brett Lawrie

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The White Sox held Brett Lawrie out Saturday after he reported discomfort in the same left leg that sidelined him for the final 2 1/2 months of 2016.

The second baseman has been a full participant the entire spring until he informed manager Rick Renteria what he was experiencing Saturday. 

"We're going to reevaluate him tomorrow and see where he's at," Renteria said. "He didn't feel quite right, and so he was in there earlier today getting treatment. We'll reevaluate tomorrow and make a determination where we're at in terms of trying to set some parameters for how we move forward."

A confusing, tricky series of injuries that Lawrie blamed on wearing orthotics limited him to 94 games last season. He hit the disabled list on July 22 and didn't discover the cause until after the season ended. But Lawrie reported to camp feeling healthy once again and has participated at 100 percent until this point, Renteria said.

"It's been good," Renteria said. "Everything has been clean. There have been no notifications anything had been amiss. He just woke up this morning and felt it. So we're going to be very cautious, take it a day at a time, reevaluate it and see where we're at."