Chicago Sun-Times

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While the rest of his team was in Miami stunning the defending champs in Game One of their conference semifinal playoff series, Luol Deng was watching from his hospital bed. Shortly after the Bulls upset the Heat, Deng tweeted out an Instagram photo, saying, "So proud of my team man, this bed might be good luck after all. #SeeRed #Holdat." Deng was admitted to the hospital last week due to symptoms of meningitis and even received a spinal tap, knocking him out of the final two games of the series against the Nets.

Tom Thibodeau: 'We're in a little bit of a funk'

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Taj Gibson in action.jpgIn other Bulls news ...

Nearing the end of the long NBA season, injuries to Richard Hamilton, Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson are taking their toll on the Bulls. They're 7-11 since Feb. 1, losing five of their last eight games. They've also lost their last four road games. The Bulls, who once had the league's best road record at 13-6, are now 17-14 on the road.

Hamilton is not on the road trip and Hinrich and Gibson are day-to-day as the Bulls prepare to face the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night at Sleep Train Arena. The signs of wear-and-tear as the Bulls try to make up for their absences is showing. Nate Robinson is shooting 25 percent on three-pointers (15-of-16) in his last 13 games after he had made 56 percent (19-of-34) in his previous seven games. Luol Deng is shooting 38 percent from the field in his last 22 games after shooting 44 percent in his first 40 games.

''We're in a little bit of a funk,'' coach Tom Thibodeau said. ''We've got to get the energy back into it. We have to adjust faster. We have to adapt to change quicker. So when someone's out, the next guy has to step in and we have to be able to function well. That part we have to do better.''

Rose on Bulls bench.jpgDerrick Rose said Tuesday he is physically fine, his workouts are getting easier but he is trying to get over the mental ''hump'' before he returns to the Bulls' lineup -- and that might not happen this season.

''I think with any surgery, mentally you have to get over that hump -- that's what I'm doing now,'' Rose said prior to the Bulls' practice at UCLA's Student Activities Center. ''I'm able to play but it's just getting over that hump -- I should be fine.

''I think I can do everything [physically]. It's just me having the confidence to do it. I'm just trying to feel normal. When I'm out there and not thinking and just reacting, that's when I know I'll be ready.''

Tom Thibodeau at the mike.jpgRichard Hamilton (lower back) will not make the Bulls' West Coast trip that begins Sunday afternoon against the Lakers at the Staples Center. But Kirk Hinrich (right foot) and Taj Gibson (sprained knee) are day-to-day and not yet ruled out of the game against the Lakers, coach Tom Thibodeau said.

''You never know,'' Thibodeau said Saturday after the Bulls practiced lightly at the Berto Center before leaving for Los Angeles. ''Tomorrow is a long way off.''

Derrick Rose will accompany the team on the trip and participate in shootarounds and practices as he has for the past few weeks. But his return did not appear imminent based on Thibodeau's responses Saturday.

''He's the same,'' Thibodeau said. ''Concentrate on each and every day. Put everything you have into it and we'll see where we are.''

Thibodeau said he has not decided how the process of Rose's return will be handled by the team -- whether his return ultimately will be a ''game-time decision'' or if the national interest in it might require more advance notice.

''We'll see,'' Thibodeau said. ''We'll cross that bridge when we get there. We just want him to keep working. There is no timetable.''

Belinelli game-winner vs. Jazz.jpgWith Richard Hamilton, Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson out with injuries and Derrick Rose still not ready to return, the Bulls have to scrap for everything they get these days. On Friday, it was just enough.

Despite losing a nine-point halftime lead and shooting 24 percent (10-for-42) in the second half, the Bulls rallied to beat the Utah Jazz 89-88 on Marco Belinelli's three-point shot from the corner with 5.9 seconds left in the fourth quarter before a sellout crowd of 21,842 at the United Center.

Belinelli scored 22 points on 7-of-14 shooting. Carlos Boozer added 22 points and 10 rebounds. Joakim Noah had nine points and 13 rebounds as the Bulls improved to 35-27 heading into a three-game West Coast swing against the Los Angeles Lakers, Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors, beginning Sunday afternoon at the Staples Center.

Nate Robinson scored 14 points on 4-of-13 shooting (1-of-8 on three-pointers), with seven assists. And Nazr Mohammed added nine points and seven rebounds in a 20-minute stint off the bench.

''We just hung in there,'' Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. ''It was a choppy game. Joakim got in foul trouble. We played Nate a lot of straight minutes, so Marco got some time at the point. We played Nazr and Joakim together because Utah has a big front line.''

Belinelli's shot typically came off a scramble after a missed shot. With the Bulls trailing 88-86 with 10.9 seconds left after Joakim Noah rebounded a missed shot by the Jazz, Belinelli missed a short jumper. But Noah got the rebound and passed to Jimmy Butler near the basket. Butler quickly found an open Belinelli in the corner and Belinelli's smooth three-pointer hit nothing but net.

''I didn't do too much. I just shot the ball,'' Belinelli said. ''I was ready to shoot the ball. I think we were lucky and [Noah] got a great rebound and [Butler] did a good job to find me in the corner. I think Jimmy made the best move.''

Rose on Bulls bench.jpgDerrick Rose is the biggest story on the Bulls beat, and until the Bulls start winning more consistently against playoff-caliber teams, the only story on the Bulls beat.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau seemed to come to grips with that when he addressed the tired, but still red-hot Rose return storyline prior to Friday night's game against the Utah Jazz at the United Center.

Already a snowball rolling downhill, the Rose story picked up more steam Friday when ESPNChicago.com reported that the Bulls have cleared Rose to play, but Rose will not return until he can clear the psychological hurdle of dunking confidently off his injured left leg in a game situation.

''He's been cleared to do everything that there is,'' Thibodeau said. ''But before he makes the final step, everyone ... from Jerry [Reinsdorf] on down ... has to get together and sign off. And that hasn't happened yet.''

DRoseie.jpgTaj Gibson, Richard Hamilton and Kirk Hinrich will not play against the Utah Jazz on Friday night at the United Center. But, with all due respect to those fine players, nobody cares about that. As the end of the regular season approaches, the only thing that matters to Bulls fans is whether or not Derrick Rose is playing, or at least sitting on the bench.

Rose will not play against the Jazz, coach Tom Thibodeau said Friday morning. But the more ominous news from the Berto Center is the declaration by Thibodeau that the Bulls are prepared for the possibility that Rose might not return at all this season.

Asked about an ESPNChicago.com report by Melissa Isaacson that Rose has been cleared to return, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said ''nothing has changed" regarding Rose's status.

''He's doing everything. He's participating in every part of practice,'' Thibodeau said. ''He's getting there. He's not quite there yet.''

But asked if he still expect him to play at some point this season, Thibodeau said, ''We're prepared either way. We'll see what happens.''

Kirk Hinrich out vs. Pacers with sore right foot

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Hinrich and Thibodeau.jpgBulls point guard Kirk Hinrich will miss Sunday night's game against the Indiana Pacers with a sore right foot, coach Tom Thibodeau confirmed prior to the game Sunday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Thibodeau said Hinrich himself was unsure of when he suffered the injury. ''He doesn't know,'' he said. ''He said he just woke up and had soreness in one of his toes.''

Nate Robinson will start in Hinrich's place. But rookie Marquis Teague, Marco Belinelli and others could help fill Hinrich's role. The Bulls also are without point guard Derrick Rose (torn ACL), shooting guard Richard Hamilton (back spasms) and forward Taj Gibson (sprained MCL).

''Just have to be ready,'' Thibodeau said. ''We have enough. Be ready. Next guy [has to] step up and get the job done. We've been down this road a lot. Nate, Marquis, Marco -- just be ready. Go out there and get the job done.''

Hinrich had been playing well in three games since missing 10 of 11 games with a recurring elbow problem. He had 11 points and 11 assists against the Cleveland Cavaliers, 15 points and six assists against the Philadelphia 76ers and 12 points and four assists in Saturday night's 96-85 victory over the Brooklyn Nets.

Kirk Hinrich.jpgBulls guard Kirk Hinrich arrived at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in a walking boot and is not expected to play tonight against the Indiana Pacers. The extent of his injury is not yet known.

Hinrich has missed 15 games this season. He had played three consecutive games after missing 10 of 11 games because of an elbow injury and scored in double figures in all three games. Hinrich scored 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting with four assists in the Bulls' 96-85 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday night at the United Center.

After the game he gave no indication he was injured. He did seem to try to avoid the subject of his health when asked if his recent stretch of productive games was a result of being healthier.

''This is an important stretch for us,'' Hinrich said. ''We're short-handed and every night we have to go out there with the mentality that it's going to be a battle. I think we've been playing some better basketball these last few games and we have to keep it going. I'm feeling better. Playing some bigger minutes. Just taking care of myself.''


joakim noah diving (2).jpgJoakim Noah has a chair in front of his locker at the United Center. But after most games, he could use a recliner or a couch or even a bed. He's wiped out.

''I'm tired,'' Noah said after scoring 21 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, with five assists and four blocked shots in the Bulls' 96-85 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday night. ''Pretty tired.''

After back-to-back stellar games against the 76ers on Thursday and the Nets on Saturday, Noah's fatigue -- and the wear and tear on his right foot still being treated for plantar fasciitis -- bears watching heading into Sunday night's game against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

The issue of Noah's playing time cropped up again after he played 41 minutes in a game the Bulls led by 14 points or more throughout the second half. Even Noah seemed to be wondering why he played the final 6:25 of the fourth quarter when the Bulls were leading by 19 points.

Asked if playing 40 minutes a game is a bigger challenge mentally or physically, Noah nearly brought the minutes issue front-and-center.

''It's definitely physical ... definitely both,'' he said. ''It's not really right after the game, but the next morning is the roughest. We have a great coach, but he doesn't understand the whole resting [thing] yet, I don't think. So ... it's all good. We all want to win. So, it's good.''

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