By Mike McGraw
The Bulls' injured point guard finally has completed his rehab and should be in the starting lineup Tuesday night in New Orleans.
Wait a second, better be more specific here -- Kirk Hinrich expects to be back on the floor after missing seven games with a right-elbow infection. The other guy is still out.
"It's definitely 100 percent," Hinrich said Monday at the Berto Center. "I was able to shoot all through the break, did some conditioning. It's good."
Nate Robinson has played well all season, but the Bulls do miss Hinrich's defense and slightly better assist-to-turnover ratio. The Bulls went 2-5 in the games Hinrich missed, although it was a road-heavy stretch against quality opponents.
"It's five-man offense, five-man defense. If one guy's not doing his job, everyone's going to look bad," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "It wasn't any one particular player; it's just that we had slippage.
"Our turnovers hurt us. So we were beating ourselves and that led to poor defensive transition."
When the Bulls were in Brooklyn preparing for the Feb. 1 game against the Nets, Hinrich returned to Chicago to have surgery on the elbow. This issue began when he tore the bursa sac in the elbow about a month ago.
"The feedback everybody was giving our trainers was there was a good chance it was going to get infected," Hinrich said. "It finally did and it got to the point where it was getting pretty bad.
"I was feeling terrible, starting to feel sick, couldn't bend my arm with the swelling, getting pretty nasty looking. (The surgeon) went in, took my bursa out, cleaned it out and sewed it back up."
The Bulls have another tough stretch coming out of the all-star break. New Orleans beat the Bulls early in the season without rookie Anthony Davis or shooting guard Eric Gordon.
Miami visits the United Center on Thursday, while road games loom in the next three weeks against Oklahoma City, Indiana, San Antonio, the Lakers and Golden State.
The Bulls' defense went sour before the break, other than an ugly 71-69 loss in Boston on Feb. 13.
"We had slippage," Thibodeau said. "The big thing is to get our level of intensity back up where it needs to be so we can execute at a high level and for us, that's paramount.
"We have to clean some things up offensively and defensively. But the biggest challenge is going to be the level of intensity, to get that back."
Luol Deng and Joakim Noah played in the All-Star Game, but for everyone else the weekend was a chance to rest and recharge.
"I think we've got a ways to go, but we're working hard," Noah said. "When we're right and we're playing the right way, we've proven we can beat anybody. We've proven if we don't come with the right attitude and play together, we can lose to anybody.
"It's on us to focus in. There's two months left before the playoffs start. It's on us to be ready for that."
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