Finally, mercifully, this year’s circus trip is coming to an end. After their 1-4 start to this edition of their annual trek through hell, the Bulls are 10-60 this decade when the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus comes to Chicago. Human words cannot adequately describe that level of fail.
When the worse-than-expected Bulls finish wrap up the trip in Milwaukee against the better-than-expected Bucks, it probably will be without Kirk Hinrich and his sprained left thumb. Said Captain Kirk: “It would have to improve considerably. It’s still really sore. I have trouble gripping. It doesn’t feel strong. But I’m pretty confident it’s not going to be long.”
Well, that’s a relief.
As you may have heard, an MRI of Hinrich’s cranky digit confirmed the left thumb ligament wasn’t torn. According to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: “Hinrich said he’s visiting a specialist on Monday merely for ‘closure’ and to get ‘more of a timetable’ for how long he’ll be sidelined.”
So…is there any chance at all he’ll play?
Added Hinrich: “[Sunday] it was a little bit better, but it’s still very sore. I wear this splint just to keep it from moving because pretty much any movement, it’s very sore. I have trouble gripping anything, like tying my shoe, opening bottles or anything like that. If it feels better [tonight] and I feel like I can give it a go, I’m gonna try and play.”
Sounds like a big “maybe” to me. But Vinny Del Negro downgraded that somewhat optimistic appraisal to what sounds like a bigger “no.”
Said Del Negro: ”He hasn’t practiced. We need him to get back, but we want to be smart about it.”
Fair enough. No sense in risking Kirk’s health in November. It is, after all, a long season.
With Hinrich out, that means more minutes for Derrick Rose…not to mention a starring role as the primary defender for Brandon Jennings. You may remember Jennings as the rookie who dropped a game-high 25 points on the Bulls a month ago and a bigtime 55 points on the (notably defenseless) Golden State Warriors back on November 14.
The good news for Rose is that Jennings has been cooling off a bit lately. The kid went 7-for-22 from the field in a 100-98 loss to the Magic on Saturday, and he’s averaged only 14.0 points and 29.0 percent shooting in Milwaukee’s last four games. Not coincidentally, the Bucks lost all four of those games.
That doesn’t mean the Bulls should relax, though. The end of a long road trip usually results in a major letdown game for the visiting team, which could result in a comeback game for Jennings. But Rose apparently has an anti-Jennings plan: “You have to make sure you always stay in front of him, contest all his jump shots; it’s like that with any other good guard. He can score and so can every guard in the league. You just have to make it difficult for him.”
Rose knows what he’s talking about. After all, opposing defenses have been making it difficult for him all season.
Interestingly enough, Rose has been the opposite of Jennings on this circus trip. When Brandon’s scoring tailed off, the Bucks started losing. Meanwhile, Chicago’s depressing four-game slide — all four of which have been double-digit smackdowns — has coincided with the return of Derrick’s offense. Rose has averaged a shade over 20 PPG on 50.7 percent shooting during the losing streak. Before that, he had been averaging 13.4 points on 43.8 percent shooting.
It remains to be seen whether the Bulls have what it takes to salvage the final game of this brutal trip, but Vinny seemed awful upbeat about the team’s chances: “We’ve had a couple of days to practice. We just have to bounce back and play well, get a good game under our belts and find a way to win on the road. It usually comes down to the fourth quarter. If you’re able to execute and make plays, you can win, and we haven’t done that the last few games.”
Four-quarter execution can be difficult for tired teams…which the Bulls probably will be. After all, they weren’t terribly deep to begin with. Now they’re minus one starter (Tyrus Thomas) and their primary backcourt reserve/best perimeter defender. Will their seven-man rotation be enough to pull out a win in Milwaukee? We’ll see.