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Bulls hoping to get back on track in Florida

Bulls hoping to get players back healthy soon for a playoff push

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By Sam Smith | 3.1.2016 | 2:20 p.m.

The Bulls need a super Tuesday perhaps as much as Bernie Sanders and Marco Rubio.

They may have about as much chance the way things have primarily gone for the Bulls in this NBA season.

“The big thing, hopefully, is getting our guys back, and if we do that, it’s going out there and…,” paused Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg Monday just before the team left for Tuesday’s game in Miami. “The defense has got to get back, and if we want to have a chance to win–I think we’re 19-2 when we hold teams under 100 points–that’s a big thing. If we can find our defense, when we get Jimmy (Butler) back that will help with that. Hopefully, we’ll go on a run.”

Hoiberg certainly is hoping Butler will soon accept his nomination to the lineup and serve the team well. Because the Bulls are falling back in this race.

The Bulls now are a loss away from falling to ninth in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls now are among four teams tied for the sixth through ninth places in the Eastern Conference with 10th place Washington moving up quickly.

The Bulls are 30-28, but have lost seven of 10 with the latest referendum against a Miami team that has won 10 of 15 and four of six since Chris Bosh went out with a blood clot recurrence. But the Heat got some extra burn with Joe Johnson coming in after a buyout with Brooklyn.

Butler and Nikola Mirotic remain out, and who knows how close they are to a return as both skipped the team’s first trip to Miami to continue rehabilitation.

You can’t be that close and choose to pass on South Florida.

“They’re closer than they were,” said Hoiberg. “As for what that means I don’t know exactly. Jimmy is going to get some workouts in, play some one-on-one and two-on-two while he’s back here. And then when we get back the plan is for him to hopefully practice with us and test it and see how he’s feeling. His big thing is getting comfortable and confident he can explode off that left leg, which is his jumping leg. If he feels great in practice, I wouldn’t rule (out playing) Saturday.

“He’s (Mirotic) still got pain,” said Hoiberg. “That second surgery was a lot more painful than the first one to remove the appendix. With the hematoma, they had to put a drainage tube in there, and that’s a tough surgery to recover from. He lost weight, he’s starting to get his color back, he still doesn’t feel great after workouts. But, again, he’s significantly better than he was a week ago and he’s a lot closer.”

Derrick Rose did make the trip with the team for the Miami/Orlando back to back. Hoiberg reiterated Rose will work out Tuesday morning and remains a game time decision after missing three games with leg problems.

“Derrick made it through a lot of practice (Monday),” Hoiberg said. “We sat him out a little bit. He’s feeling better. When I worked him out Saturday morning, he was in a lot of pain. Yesterday, he worked out again and he had less pain. This morning, he got a good warmup in, got a good workout before practice and participated in most of it. That’s a good sign that he hasn’t had a setback after some good, hard workouts. He made it through part of the scrimmage. Hopefully, he’ll be available, if not tomorrow, then in Orlando. It’s basically an injury (hamstring and knee pain) based on feel. If he feels he can explode off it, then he’ll play. If not, if he still has trouble exploding off the leg, we’ll take a cautious approach and sit him. It’s diagnosed as a tendinitis injury. So a lot of it is how he explodes off it. It’s obviously on the same knee that he has had repaired a couple times. We feel he’ll continue to make progress. Once we do get him back, hopefully we’ll have him back for the rest of the year.”

Hoiberg also ran some interference over the apparent Trump-ization of Rose’s injury status, the wanton name calling that comes to pass for public discussion these days.

“Look, nobody wants to be out there more than Derrick does,” Hoiberg said. “I know that. I sat and talked to him every day since he’s been out and he wants to be out there as much as anybody. He cannot explode off that leg. Working him out, you can see it. He’s limping. He’s favoring the other leg. The last thing you want is for Derrick to be out there thinking about the leg and injury and if he can push off or not. He’s made progress. He’s doing a good job coming in here a couple times a day getting treatment on his leg. Hopefully he’ll be back playing very soon.

“The big thing when you miss an extended period of time is getting your timing and conditioning back,” said Hoiberg. “You can do so much on the treadmill and tempo runs on the side and ride the bike. But nothing compares to going full speed in game type action. That’s the big thing for Derrick, to get his timing and rhythm back and obviously Jimmy and Niko as well.”

And so as it’s been in what seems like each of the last four years—and hopefully not four more–the Bulls’ chances rely not so much on the undecided but who will be able.

The schedule is daunting with a majority of games on the road. But before this hospital roll call with Joakim Noah lost for the season after shoulder surgery, the Bulls were 10 games over .500. They still lead the league in one of the top defensive indicators, opponent field goal percentage at 43.2 percent. Their defense of the three pointer is fourth best. So the 13 consecutive games allowing at least 100 points also is a product of a faster pace of play and higher scoring.

The Bulls lead the league in total rebounds per game, but have to clean up the offensive boards as they are worst in protecting against opponent offensive rebounds. Some of that is playing so many relative rookies in Doug McDermott, Bobby Portis and Mirotic before his appendix surgery. Their overall defensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions) is a satisfactory 10th in the league.

What the Bulls most miss is the scoring and defensive attention required for Rose, Butler and Mirotic, three of their top four scorers. That the Bulls even have been able to hang in and compete without the three is a triumph. But the league still counts the wins and losses and writes them down. So the Bulls will need to start getting some, and the Florida back-to-back is always a tough place.

But until all the precincts have reported, there’s always hope.

Yes, knows Mike Dunleavy, they still can.

”We’d like to be a team that plays really good defense like we have all year long in terms of limiting the other team’s field goal percentage,” noted Dunleavy. “Then offensively, we’ve got tons of weapons, tons of guys that can fill it up. You’d like to be able to score a lot of points and that’s ultimately, I think, what everybody sees on this team and this organization and hopes we can get to.

“The good news is we’re close in the standings; although we haven’t played great, we’re still in it,” said Dunleavy. “That’s the positive of it. Now we’ve to go out there in these last however many games and make it happen. That’s what it comes down to no matter who’s on the team. We get Niko, Jimmy back, there’s no guarantees. Somebody else may go down. We’ve got to always be able to make it happen with who we have on the court. Like I said, the good thing is we haven’t lost too much ground in the standings.”

But the returns are coming in more quickly now that it’s March, and there’s not much time left to make your point, or points.