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Hinrich likely out; Howard talks Rose

HOUSTON – Kirk Hinrich remained “a game-time’’ decision heading into tonight’s game with the Rockets, but the point guard admitted before the Wednesday morning shootaround that he can easily be downgraded to “not likely.’’

Hinrich has missed the last two games for the Bulls – both losses – after suffering back spasms in the 91-90 win over Milwaukee.

“The whole second half of the Milwaukee game, it was really bothering me,’’ Hinrich said. “It’s been something that’s kind of been talking to me for a week or so. I’ve been getting extra work, trying to stay on top of it. I just ended up after the game, my back really locking up, spasming up, and just been working on it, trying to get it right since.’’

With Hinrich out the likely starter will be D.J. Augustin, who started the second half of the Orlando game and continues to impress coach Tom Thibodeau, despite being in the system less than a week.

“He’s smart,’’ Thibodeau said of Augustin. “Picks things up very quickly. I think the fact that he’s been in the league for five years and he started before. The big thing is not only learning the system, but learning his teammates. He’s very, very bright.’’

As for Hinrich, with a back-to-back in Oklahoma City on Thursday, the hope is if he doesn’t face the Thunder, he will be back by the weekend.

“Well initially it was there was virtually very little movement, very painful,’’ Hinrich said. “Got a lot of work done in treatment and stuff. Moving better, but still very, very sore. Still very limited in my movements. Just getting hammered in treatment, get as ready as soon as I can.’’

Jimmy Butler [toe] and Luol Deng [left Achilles] are both expected to be at full strength, and have had no setbacks in returning from their recent injuries.

–Houston big man Dwight Howard hasn’t spoken to injured Bulls star Derrick Rose since he had the season-ending surgery on his right knee, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been thinking about him.

“It’s just an unfortunate situation for him,’’ Howard said. “He tried so hard to come back from the one injury and then he got injured again. Injuries are not something that is easy to come back from. It’s mentally draining. If you’re not strong enough to handle being injured, it’s hard. When I hurt my back, just trying to get back into it after five or six months after not being able to do anything, you watch guys play. I know how it feels.’’

Howard said he also felt that it will be the Rose of old when he does return, but he needs to return on his own clock.

“It just takes time. In this age, people don’t want to hear it takes time,’’ Howard said. “They want it now. But injuries for us, we have to make sure with our career that we take our time to get back right. That’s what he should do. He didn’t rush last year. He shouldn’t rush now. They’re going to put a lot of pressure on him to play. Just because you see somebody out there working and jumping and running, that doesn’t mean they’re game ready. There’s a big difference. Hopefully he takes his time and he comes back when he’s ready.’’