WASHINGTON, D.C. — Playing small was supposed to be an option for the Bulls this season, looking at the bevy of bigs, the talented players whose depth could absorb an injury or two.
Taj Gibson limping to the locker room in the second quarter of the Bulls' 117-96 loss to the Washington Wizards with a tight right hamstring probably produced a feeling of “Why us?” or “What else can happen?” followed by “Wait ... don’t answer that.”
“Tight, tight hamstring. Frustrating,” Gibson said. “Tried to go out there and give it a go. Gotta listen to your body on this one.”
There’s no formula that can produce healthy bodies, but Gibson’s injury — one that Fred Hoiberg said “doesn’t look good” for Thursday’s game against the Brooklyn Nets, just adds to the ledger of talented souls unable to perform.
“We have to evaluate it,” Gibson said. “I understand the playoff race is close. Everybody, I feel, something positive coming. I don’t know, how many days it’ll take. We have to re-evaluate it. I try to be there for the guys. It was frustrating early.”
Hoiberg said: “We’ll evaluate him in the morning and see if we need to do a further test on him to see how severe it is.”
The word “severe” probably sends a chill down everyone’s spine, but it’s the state of affairs and has been for quite some time.
Pau Gasol is likely out with swelling in his right knee. Joakim Noah is out for the season. Gibson, playing center mind you, watched as Cristiano Felicio and Bobby Portis had to man the middle.
Felicio spent time in the D-League, and Portis is a wide-eyed, green rookie. Not the desired tandem you’d like to have coming into a crucial stretch of four straight games at home as playoff implications increase the closer the calendar gets to April 14.
“Small ball,” said Derrick Rose of a possible solution. “The guys that come in have to do their job. We know that we want to be in the playoffs, and we have to take it one game at a time and have to find ways to manipulate the game.”
Doug McDermott played power forward in the summer league, but The Show isn’t July basketball in Las Vegas.
Then again, what else can Hoiberg do?
“I think it’ll be a comfortable role for me, especially tonight (Jared) Dudley was at the four and (Otto) Porter,” said McDermott of the Wizards’ players who are small forwards by trade. “I can guard them, they’re not big and strong. But I think it could be good for us, especially on offense. Spread the floor a little more. They’re gonna switch a lot of screens with me, so Aaron (Brooks) or E’Twaun (Moore) or Derrick, a big guarding them so it can be really effective.
“I think Jimmy’s capable of playing the four, too. Him trailing the floor is pretty dangerous. We gotta get used to it. We have a lot of injuries, guys aren’t used to playing with each other.”
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The other end of the floor is where things are already dicey, as the Bulls have given up track-meet point totals since January, a festival of easy layups, drive-and-kick 3s and a general lack of resistance with a hint of indifference on defense.
“We’re just not the tougher team,” Butler said. “All the way down this roster, we’re not the tougher team every night, and it shows. If there’s a loose ball, we’re not getting it. If there’s a rebound people gotta fight for, we’re not getting it. We’re just not the tougher team, and I think it shows a lot of the time.”
Whether it’s delusion or simply blind optimism, Gibson feels there’s some light at the end of the tunnel — with the way things have gone in this topsy-turvy season, he has to think it’ll swing back to normal, whatever normal is.
“I’m optimistic. I think something positive will happen,” Gibson said. “The games are coming back to back to back. We gotta keep going, stay positive and keep working.”
Let the more pragmatic Butler tell it, he’s confident it can happen but feels it has to be an individual choice in a season quickly tumbling from disappointing to disastrous.
“It’s on everybody to do it,” Butler said. “You can’t make somebody do it. You can’t teach somebody to do it. Either you want to or you don’t.”