Bulls point guard Kirk Hinrich didn't practice on Wednesday, but he has ditched his trusty walking boot and is "improving," according to Tom Thibodeau. Hinrich himself said he's hopeful that he'll play in Game 6 on Thursday, but there will need to be significant improvement for him to be able to suit up. He said that he's still walking "gingerly" and hasn't tried to run, cut or jump yet.
That certainly doesn't sound like a guy who will play, which is bad news for the Bulls. I've been hard on Hinrich all year, but it's clear how much the Bulls need him in this series. Nate Robinson had little chance stopping Deron Williams' penetration in Game 5, and it threw the rest of the Bulls' defense out of whack. It also likely hurt their rebounding, as the penetration forced the Bulls' bigs to help more and took them out of good rebounding position. Although the necessary effort wasn't there either.
The Bulls' offense was mostly fine without Hinrich, but Carlos Boozer certainly missed the presence of his usual starting point guard. Hinrich is really good at getting Boozer involved, and the big man was only able to muster eight shots in the Game 5 loss. Nate did have a nice game with 20 points and eight assists, but he needs to do a better job getting Boozer going.
In other bad news, Luol Deng and Taj Gibson were home sick on Wednesday, although Thibs is hopeful they'll be good to go for Thursday. Deng and Gibson both have had their fair of struggles this series, with Lu just 1-of-18 from three and Gibson managing just three rebounds over the last four games. Still, the Bulls can't afford them to sit.
For the Nets, Joe Johnson admitted that he's pretty much playing on one leg like Joakim Noah, and that he wouldn't be playing if it were the regular season. Reggie Evans missed practice due to an illness, but he will travel with the team and play in Game 6. And finally, Andray Blatche has been battling a sore calf, but he expects to be at about 90 percent on Thursday and will play as much as needed.
Some other notes/links:
-Blatche did play very well in Game 5 despite the calf, scoring 13 points and grabbing five rebounds in 20 minutes. 10 of those points came in the fourth quarter, and over the course of the series, the Blatche/Lopez duo has done very well together in the fourth quarter (and in general). Devin Kharpertian over at The Brooklyn Game says that the Nets have outscored the Bulls 40-17 in 16 fourth quarter minutes when that duo has shared the court this series. That stat was part of a much larger article examining whether Blatche should start, or at least play starter's minutes (the answer is pretty much yes).
-Jimmy Butler had his best game of the series in Game 5, tallying an efficient 18 points on nine shots. He "only" played 32 minutes, and I'm kind of surprised he didn't play more considering how well he was playing. Thibs stuck with Marco Belinelli a bit longer than I figured he would in the fourth quarter (Marco did hit a few shots), and Butler didn't come back in until about the four-minute mark. Anyway, Butler's performance was certainly commendable, and he continues to get noticed by national writers. ESPN Insider's Amin Elhassan praised Butler's defense a few days ago, and the esteemed Zach Lowe of Grantland had Butler on his list of "New Age Shane Battiers." Lowe defines these players as 3-and-D guys who can shoot well from deep and defend both wing positions, aka the "perfect" role player. If Butler can keep his improved shooting up, he definitely falls into this category, and certainly could be even better.
-If you believe in bulletin board material (we know the Nets do), Blatche provided some today, saying that there's "no doubt" in their minds that the Nets are the better team. Although he may be right if we're talking about this Bulls team that's currently a shell of itself. But we've seen this Bulls group defy the odds before, so hopefully they can do the same and deliver a GIF party after Game 6.