Bulls circus trip 2012 preview: Kirk Hinrich hopes to be ready for annual trip out west

Mike DiNovo-US PRESSWIRE

Previewing the Bulls' circus trip that kicks off on Wednesday in Phoenix. Kirk Hinrich hopes to be able to come back from injury.

The Barnum & Bailey Circus is in town, so that means it's time for the Bulls' annual November pilgrimage out west for that dastardly circus trip. Luckily, this season the trip is only five games, and one of those games is in Milwaukee. So basically, it's a four-game road trip.

The Bulls head into the trip off a tough loss to the Celtics, a game where Chicago definitely missed the services of Kirk Hinrich (Taj Gibson said so, and also called him "Kurt"). Rajon Rondo spent most of the night ripping apart the Bulls' defense, something that at the very least would have been made more difficult with Hinrich on the floor.

It would be nice to get Hinrich's defensive presence back in the lineup, because the Bulls will be facing a string of pretty darn good point guards on this trip. Kirk practiced on Tuesday, and is hopeful that he'll be ready to roll when the Bulls kick off the trip on Wednesday in Phoenix.

Here's a brief preview of each matchup on the trip, with the longer previews obviously coming later (stats via ESPN.com):

Wednesday, Nov. 14 at Phoenix Suns (4-4)

The Suns' offense has dropped off with Steve Nash gone to Hollywood, but Goran Dragic has helped mitigate the loss of Nash to some degree. Dragic is averaging 16.6 points and 7.5 assists, and he has the Suns still in the top half of the league in offensive efficiency. And luckily for him, Derrick Rose won't be around to dunk on his head.

The Suns have been one of the better offensive rebounding teams in the NBA, ranking seventh in offensive rebound rate thanks to guys like Marcin Gortat and Luis Scola. The Bulls have been one of the better defensive rebounding teams in the league this season, so this will be an interesting battle to watch.

Something that hasn't changed in Phoenix is garbage defense. Suns are 26th in points allowed and 28th in defensive efficiency, so this could be a game where the Bulls pick apart the opponent thanks to their ball movement.

Saturday, Nov. 17 at Los Angeles Clippers (5-2)

I pray to God Hinrich is back for this one, because Chris Paul would do bad, bad things to Nate Robinson and Marquis Teague. Paul has the Clippers near the top of the league in a bunch of offensive categories, although he's not doing it alone.

Old friend and chucker extraordinaire Jamal Crawford has gotten off to a red-hot start, surely because he finally started practicing shooting this summer. Blake Griffin has been somewhat meh, bu that's been offset by the emergence of DeAndre Jordan, who actually has shown an ability to put in the ball in the basket on shots other than dunks.

Of course, I always look forward to games with the Clippers these days for the simple reason that I can laugh at Vinny Del Negro. I think I'm going to keep track of how many times Vinny call Hinrich "Kurt."

Sunday, Nov. 18 at Portland Trail Blazers (3-5)

When you take a look at the Blazers' starting lineup, you wonder why they have gotten off to such a poor start. They have a borderline star in LaMarcus Aldridge, a dynamic rookie point guard in Damian Lillard, and an excellent young win in Nicolas Batum to go along with Wes Matthews and J.J. Hickson.

Then you look at their bench and you understand why the Blazers are probably headed toward the lottery. After the starting five, the next highest scoring player is rookie Meyers Leonard (I-L-L)...at 3.8 points per game. And while points per game obviously isn't everything, one look at the on/off court numbers from 82games.com will show you that the Blazers' bench is a giant pile of suck.

Also terrible and probably related to the above? The Blazers' brutal defense. They're the proud owners of the fourth-worst defensive efficiency in the league.

Wednesday, Nov. 21 at Houston Rockets (3-4)

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't excited for the Bulls' first game against "top offseason priority" Omer Asik. The big man has performed quite well in his first year as a starter, pulling down 13.0 rebounds per game and somehow, someway up near 10 points per game. Of course, his field goal percentage is at just 42.1 percent, woeful for a 7-footer.

The Rockets' offense as a whole has been pretty bad, despite the additions of James Harden and Jeremy Lin. Harden has slowed after his ridiculous start, while Lin has been mediocre at best. The Rockets love to chuck a bunch of threes (29.0 per game), but they sure as hell don't make many (8.7 per game).

I would expect to see a nice dose of Jimmy Butler in this one to check the Bearded Wonder.

Saturday, Nov. 24 at Milwaukee Bucks (4-2)

As mentioned above, this, like pretty much any other game in Milwaukee, will essentially be a home game. It's also the first of two straight meetings, as the two teams will play at the United Center the following Monday.

Monta Ellis has done his usual thing, firing up a high volume of shots with a very mixed bag of results. Brandon Jennings has also been a mixed bag shooting, but he has been an apt playmaker, averaging 8.5 assists per game. The Bucks have gotten nice starts from Mike Dunleavy and Larry Sanders, which has been a somewhat surprising development.

The Bucks have been really good on their defensive glass, ranking first in defensive rebound rate. However, their offensive rebound rate is nothing special.

Also, I wonder if Scott Skiles will try to kidnap Hinrich.

Final Thoughts

This is a pretty favorable circus trip schedule for the Bulls, as the only really good team on the slate are the Clippers. I'd say the Bulls should go 4-1, but they'll probably pick up a loss in a game that should have been won. So ultimately, a 3-2 trip would be a success in my eyes.

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