By JEFF ARNOLD
For the Sun-Times
Mike Dunleavy doesn’t mince words when asked to describe what life has been without basketball.
“Awful” is the sentiment that comes to mind for Dunleavy, who hasn’t played this season after undergoing back surgery and hasn’t seen game action since last May. Although his return to the floor isn’t set in stone, Dunleavy will participate in a controlled scrimmage setting on Tuesday before the Bulls hit the road beginning Thursday in Los Angeles.
Dunleavy, who missed Monday’s game against Miami along with Joakim Noah (shoulder), Kirk Hinrich (left quad contusion) and E’Twaun Moore (hamstring), is targeting a return sometime in February following a rehabilitation period that has been frustrating.
“Going through the process, backs are tricky,” Dunleavy said. “They have a mind of their own and it just didn’t go the way I wanted it to. But I’m in a good spot, hopeful for what’s coming ahead.”
Coach Fred Hoiberg wouldn’t put a timetable for Dunleavy’s return, saying it was too early to be more specific. But he sees the silver lining of the small forward getting the chance to be in active practice participant after being an observer from the sideline all season.
“The positive is he’s going to be out there with our guys,” Hoiberg said.
Dunleavy has passed the point where he doesn’t trust his back and characterizes himself as being “comfortable and confident” and as someone who is prepared to help the Bulls out where he can.
When asked what he can add to a team that has struggled with consistency this season, Dunleavy flashed a smile.
“Whatever a wily 35-year-old can add,” the 14-year NBA veteran said. “People are going to say ‘shooting’, but to me, I haven’t thought much about that. It’s a lot of the little things. Things that make a difference, getting back on defense, setting screens, moving without the ball. The little things that contribute to winning, that kind of make me valuable. Hopefully I can bring that and have an impact.”
SHOOTING SPRINGBOARD: After Nikola Mirotic ended a recent shooting slump with a 17-point effort Saturday against Cleveland, Hoiberg hopes the second-year forward can continue to move past a four-game swing prior when Mirotic was a combined 4-for-22 from the field prior to Saturday’s double-digit performance. “It’s easier said than done when you’re going through your struggles to stay positive and to look at the next one,” Hoiberg said. “Niko is a very important piece to our team in what we’re trying to do as a team so it was great to see him have that type of a game.”
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