By Mike McGraw
Improving the bench play has been an issue for the Bulls. So even if Kirk Hinrich has to skip Monday’s game against Boston, at least there could be a silver lining.
Hinrich sat out the second half of Saturday’s 87-80 victory over Minnesota with a right-hip strain. He had an MRI exam Sunday morning, but his status for the Celtics game has not been determined.
Coach Tom Thibodeau’s update Sunday at the Berto Center is that Hinrich is day to day. The veteran guard was seen walking without a limp.
If Hinrich doesn’t play, Nate Robinson will start at point guard and battle Boston’s Rajon Rondo, the NBA leader in assists.
Robinson had a couple of big games in the preseason when Hinrich sat out. He also has played in the fourth quarter a few times in place of Hinrich.
On Sunday, Robinson didn’t want to focus on the matchup with Rondo. The two were teammates for about a half-season in 2010, when Robinson played for the Celtics.
“I’m not trying to make it about me and him,” Robinson said Sunday. “This is a team. We’re trying to win the game. We’re trying to beat the Celtics. It’s not me vs. Rondo; it’s the Bulls vs. the Celtics.”
If Hinrich sits out, it also would give rookie Marquis Teague a chance to play a role. Until the second half of the Minnesota game, Teague’s only regular-season action was three minutes at the end of the blowout win in Cleveland on Nov. 2.
Teague played six minutes on Saturday, scored his first NBA basket on a driving bank and was turnover free.
“I’ve been very pleased with what he’s done in practice,” Thibodeau said of Teague. “He gets there early. He’s working hard. He’s practicing well. So I felt when his opportunity would come, I had a good feeling about him performing well.
“I thought that one drive was terrific. He attacked the basket. He used his speed, finished strong. He’s got to continue to do that.”
Teague, 19, jumped to the NBA after playing one season at Kentucky. His rookie year figured to be more of a learning experience than a playing experience, even while Derrick Rose is recovering from knee surgery.
“I’m just paying attention to what Kirk and Nate do, watching them a lot, and it’s just helping me out,” Teague said. “I feel like I’m developing.
“It’s a lot of early mornings and late nights, just staying in the gym constantly, trying to show people you can play at this level.”
When the Bulls face Boston, it will be the last date of a five-game homestand.
They’ll leave Tuesday for the five-game circus trip, which stops this year in Phoenix, Los Angeles (Clippers), Portland, Houston and Milwaukee.
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