Dwyane Wade had seemed to find an offensive groove when a wrist injury took him out of the lineup just as the Bulls recent West Coast swing was drawing to a close.
Wade reached double figures in the four games he appeared in, including a 31-point performance in a win over Sacramento after the Bulls watched a comfortable lead disappear only to have Wade lead the way to a victory.
But after scoring 18 points in a loss to the Suns last Friday, Wade’s wrist became an issue and has kept him from playing ever since. Wade was hopeful to return Thursday night against the Celtics. But after participating in about half of Wednesday’s practice, the veteran point guard woke up sick Thursday morning, which downgraded his availability from questionable to doubtful.
“It’s frustrating,” coach Fred Hoiberg said after Thursday’s morning shoot around. “He was in a good rhythm and so to go down right now with the wrist injury, now the illness, the (All-Star) break is coming at a good time for him.”
The same goes for the Bulls in general.
After Thursday’s game, the Bulls won’t play again until next Friday when they host the Suns before traveling to Cleveland to face the Eastern Conference-leading Cavaliers on Saturday. Wade, along with Paul Zipser (ankle tendinitis) won’t play against the Celtics, but Nikola Mirotic will return after dealing with back spasms, which forced him to miss the last two games. Hoiberg said Mirotic’s time against the Celtics will be determined as the game goes on and if the back spasms flair up again.
Jimmy Butler will again play with no restrictions, Hoiberg said Thursday, after Butler scored 19 points despite going 2-for-10 from the floor Tuesday night against the Raptors in his return from a heel injury that kept him out for four of the Bulls’ previous five games.
As much as the Bulls need Butler on the floor, forward Taj Gibson said that Wade’s absence has a noticeable impact for a team that has struggled to play consistently for 48 minutes.
“It takes away one of our stronger options,” Gibson said Thursday. “Wade hurts you in so many different ways. He can post guards up, his 3-point shot has been great for us this year, but just his leadership and his tenacity – we really want that and need that some games.”
With a win against the Celtics – who have won four straight and 11 of their last 12 – the Bulls would enter the All-Star break a game under .500 with 25 regular-season games remaining. Hoiberg said Thursday that the Bulls will need to show more consistency, especially defensively, as they approach the stretch run clinging to the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
But as the Bulls continue to work through injuries, Gibson said the All-Star break may be the perfect remedy for the Bulls, who have had to work through issues – on and off the court. If they can take advantage of the break, Gibson believes the Bulls still have a run in them to keep them from missing the playoffs for the second straight season.
His reasoning for his confidence?
“Every time we play against the top-tier teams – teams that are competing for something, we do well against them, we get up for the challenge,” Gibson said. “We’ve been inconsistent against some of the lower-tier teams, but I’m still optimistic, I’m still positive.”
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