By Mike McGraw
There is no definitive word on when Richard Hamilton might return from a torn plantar fascia in his left foot. Hamilton suffered the injury in the third quarter of Saturday’s win over Philadelphia.
“We’ll see,” coach Tom Thibodeau said Monday at the Berto Center. “It could be a week, could be two weeks, could be longer. Once he feels good enough to play, he’ll be back.”
A common diagnosis for this type of injury is 3-6 weeks. It generally does not require surgery, just time in a walking boot.
Thibodeau also provided no answer for who will start in Hamilton’s place Tuesday against Indiana. The two leading candidates are Marco Belinelli and Jimmy Butler.
“I feel good about that position,” Thibodeau said. “Marco has started a lot of games before. Jimmy has played terrific all season long and we have some flexibility, too. Kirk (Hinrich) can go to the two (guard). We’ll be fine.”
After a miserable preseason, Belinelli has shown signs of breaking out of his shooting slump, but those promising moments haven’t lasted long. He regresses to the point where he’s practically invisible on the floor, then inevitably disappears on the bench.
In his second season, Butler has quickly developed into a guy who generally makes good things happen. He’s a strong defender and always goes full speed. He’s not someone who creates shots for himself, but he’s become reliable at knocking down open jumpers. He drained a corner 3-pointer in the fourth quarter against the Sixers.
An argument could be made either way. Thibodeau could start with Belinelli at shooting guard, hoping it will give him a boost, and keep Butler in the role of bringing energy off the bench.
On the other hand, with Belinelli struggling for most of the season, why burden him with the challenge of playing against a starting-caliber opponent? Of the two, Butler figures to play more minutes, so might as well start him.
“I really do not know,” Butler said after practice. “Coach hasn’t said anything. He’ll let us know tomorrow, probably. I just think if I start or come off the bench, my job is to bring energy, defend and hit open shots.”
Overall this season, Butler has averaged 16 minutes and 5.4 points, with Belinelli at 15 minutes and 5.0 points. There’s a huge difference in field-goal percentage, with Butler at .529 and Belinelli at .368.
The trend is more noticeable in the short term. Over the last five games, Butler has averaged 6.8 points and 21.8 minutes, while Belinelli has played just 9.3 minutes and averaged 3.8 points.
“You can weigh the pros and cons of it all you want,” Hinrich said. “The bottom line is, both of them are going to get their minutes. Either one of them will fill in nicely and we’re lucky to have guys like that who can come in off the bench and step up.”
With Danny Granger sidelined by an injury, the Pacers have been starting Lance Stephenson at two guard and moving Paul George over to small forward. Stephenson is not a big scorer, but he is quick enough to be a tough defensive matchup for Belinelli.
One thing Thibodeau did say somewhat definitively is he won’t change the starting lineup based on the opponent. The Bulls continue a tour of the Central Division by visiting Cleveland and Detroit later this week, followed by New York at home on Saturday.
“I like to get into a rotation, so guys have an idea of when they’re coming in,” Thibodeau said. “We’ll take a look at a lot of different things.”
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