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Thursday, February 2

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Bulls Thu May 02 2013

Without Hinrich, It's Up To Butler And Deng

Bulls_200.pngBulls fans are desperate for the return of their starting point guard -- no not whats-his-face -- the one who's been playing while not being 100 percent healthy: captain Kirk Hinrich. This perpetually tough team proved to be too vulnerable sans Hinrich's presence in game five and could be further exploited to the point they'll lose this series. Well, the Bulls season-long good luck had to end sometime.

Sarcasm aside, without Hinrich, the offense is more makeshift than maintained from point guard play. Nate Robinson, who gave what he could after his game four heroics (20 points, eight assists, only three turnovers in 43 minutes), was overextended, which cost the Bulls in the fourth quarter with some fatigue-induced poor decisions and bad shots. In game five, Marco Belinelli dribbled around the half court like a gadabout with no purpose or direction. Even Marquis Teague got a terse run at point, but like the aforementioned combo-guards, he had similar results of ineffectiveness. Hinrich's absence hurts the team equally on defense. Deron Williams dished 10 assists, got to the free throw line 10 times, making nine of them, and in total scored 23 points. He wasn't bothered or taken out of rhythm in game five. The Nets could run their offense and they did just that. Turns out they can score.

While it looks like Hinrich will be out game six and seven, the Bulls are going to have to rely on their wings to create offense, which is something Jimmy Butler and Luol Deng are going to have to get used to posthaste.

You were probably screaming at your TV for Butler to just be more aggressive and take it to the hobbled Joe Johnson, who's dealing with plantar fasciitis. Don't worry, you're not the only one incredulous to the fact that Butler doesn't have his way with Johnson. Johnson on defense isn't playing with the determination to overcome his pain like Joakim Noah -- all of his energy is being conserved to score. Butler was hitting his jump shots, but imagine if Coach Tom Thibodeau instructed Butler to do what Nets Coach PJ Carlesimo has told Deron Williams to do when the Bulls are in foul trouble, or when Robinson is guarding him: attack the lane.

It's tough without Hinrich to set up the offense in an advantageous position to get the wings some easy buckets, so Butler will have to work just as hard with the ball as he does without it. He did have the second most points on his team in game five with 18, but he very well could have scored 28. Demanding the ball doesn't seem to be in Butler's DNA so it's up to the ball-handlers to get him more shots.

The degenerate gambler in me would dust off my silver linings playbook and call for Luol Deng to keep shooting threes, as he's due (1-for-18 from long range). The rational sports observer would ask that next time Deng is open for a trey, he should put a toe on the line then pull the trigger, or drive towards the basket, where he's most effective. Gerald Wallace doesn't the demand the defensive attention that would limit Deng on the offensive side of the court. Wallace is still competent on defense but all series long we've seen Deng dribble to the elbow and connect on line-drive jumpers over half-a-step behind Wallace. If the pull-up jumpers will be there whenever he wants, why isn't Deng going hard to the hoop? Deng has only gotten to the line 10 times in this entire series, which is sixth most on the team. The broken record that's been spun all year long, of Deng not taking it to the rim and picking up the scoring slack, needs to change its tune in game six. If he isn't going to take it upon himself to get to the basket every time he touches the ball, then why aren't the Bulls constantly setting picks or backdoor screens for Deng? If only the once, in game six, it needs to be the Deng show on offense.

Butler and Deng can collectively outlast the hurt Johnson and the oft foul-troubled Wallace. A game where the two combine for 45 points isn't out the realm of possibility, and if achieved, it would put the Nets in a world of trouble. For the Bulls, game six has to be won in the first three quarters. If they need to be bailed out by their fire-at-will guards, it won't be pretty and the team will fly back to Brooklyn for an ugly game seven. If Hinrich doesn't play in game six, then the team that played game five needs to do themselves a favor and get the ball to Butler and Deng. It's the only hand they can play that can win.

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