(MCT) — CHICAGO — Taj Gibson celebrated the birthdays of Jerry Reinsdorf and Joakim Noah on Monday by having an MRI performed on his sprained left knee.
Well, not really, but the confluence of such events seemed fitting for a star-crossed Bulls team these days. For every celebratory moment — a blowout win in Charlotte, Noah turning 28 — a somber one follows in the form of a convincing loss to an elite team or another injury.
At least Gibson’s MRI didn’t reveal a torn ACL, although it did confirm a sprained MCL that could sideline the defensive-minded forward up to two weeks. Fortunate, too, is the fact the Cavaliers come to town Tuesday, a team the Bulls have solved 11 straight times by an average of 17.8 points.
Then again, with previous losses to such downtrodden teams as the aforementioned Bobcats, Suns and Hornets, the Bulls have proved consistently how small their margin of error remains. Schedule an elite opponent and that margin drops basically to zero.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has mastered the phrase “we have more than enough to win,” an admirably tough-minded approach to eliminating excuses. Impressive, too, was Noah glumly sitting in his locker stall in Oklahoma City late Sunday, on the eve of his birthday, pointing the finger inward.
“It starts with myself,” Noah said. “I have got to play better.”
The reality is the Bulls hit a difficult stretch in their schedule, finishing 10 road games in 12 outings on Sunday in Oklahoma City. And the cumulative effect of playing without Derrick Rose and now Kirk Hinrich, who is expected to sit for the 11th time in 12 games Tuesday with his right elbow issues, is taking hold.
“We’ve got enough,” Thibodeau countered. “We have to do our jobs. We’ve shown when we do that, we’re capable of beating anyone.”
But how to do that with an offense that has grown stagnant and a defense that has surrendered 102 or more points to the Thunder, Spurs, Nuggets and Pacers in recent outings and 50 percent or better shooting to the Spurs, Nuggets, Pacers and Heat?
The Bulls have lost to the Pacers, Nuggets, Spurs, Heat and Thunder by an average of 21 points over the last nine games.
“Against good teams, you have to get to second and third options,” Thibodeau said. “The ball has to move. It has to be high energy. You have to sprint into screens. You have to set great screens, pass the ball on target, have timing and spacing.
“You have to do what’s best for the team, not necessarily what’s best for yourself to get yourself going. You can’t get stuck in whatever problems you’re having individually. You have to do your job for the team first.”
Reading tea leaves, those comments beg for the return of Hinrich, an offensive and defensive organizer and equal-opportunity shot distributor. But Hinrich said the tear that had to be re-stitched on his right elbow has to be almost fully healed for him to return.
Until then, Nate Robinson will continue to start and rookie Marquis Teague’s development year will continue with unexpected minutes.
Perhaps Reinsdorf’s and Noah’s birthday wishes included the return of Rose.