Pau Gasol will return to the Bulls lineup Monday night after missing four games with swelling in his right knee.
In the morning, Gasol was termed a game-time decision by Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg, being officially listed as “questionable” on the Bulls’ injury report.
“Pau’s good to go,” Hoiberg said. “We’ve got a plan to control his minutes, we’ll see how he responds to it. Everybody’s comfortable having him back out there.”
It flowed with what he said in the morning’s shootaround.
“He got a really good workout in yesterday, played some live two-on-two,” Hoiberg said. “And he responded well, didn’t have any swelling or pain in his knee. So we’ll make a decision on tonight and see how he responded to shootaround.”
For the first time this season, the Bulls have a somewhat-desired starting five on the floor together, as Hoiberg planned to have Nikola Mirotic as starting power forward, but Taj Gibson fits better in most combinations. With Mike Dunleavy missing time early in the season, then Jimmy Butler going out right before the All-Star break, it’s been a revolving door of starters — and in Game 69, the Bulls are somewhat close to full strength, as Joakim Noah is out for the season.
“It’s a good feeling to have your guys back and have options,” Hoiberg said. “We still have a couple of them with plans in place with their minutes. To have Pau back out there, he’s had a lot of energy the last few days, he’s chomping at the bit to get back on the floor. And obviously we flow better with him out there.”
Considering the Kings’ main threat is center DeMarcus Cousins, they’ll need all hands on deck to contain the most versatile big in the game. Cousins put up 24 points and 20 rebounds against the New York Knicks on Sunday night.
“He can shoot the 3. He has a great crossover dribble. He’s a good passer, excellent rebounder and unbelievable size and mobility,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a very tough cover for anybody one-on-one.”
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Even with Gasol back, Cristiano Felicio will see more time in prime time. He made his first start Saturday night and was more than competent against Jazz center Rudy Gobert, being active enough on both ends to prevent Gobert from dominating early and helping set a tone as the Bulls led wire to wire for their second straight win.
Cousins, though, is a different animal.
“The big thing for Cris is just getting the experience,” Hoiberg said. “Getting out there in the starting lineup, and he showed no fear. He stepped out and hit a jump shot, he had a great drive to the rim in the second half. People see potential in Cris with the way he moves, his defensive abilities because of his feet. He has good instincts.
“I think with Pau out the lineup, we needed somebody with size to give us good minutes and Cris gave us critical time on the floor in the last two games.”