By Mike McGraw
Following the Bulls' dismal 42-point loss in Sacramento late Wednesday night, coach Tom Thibodeau accepted blame for the debacle and promised to drive his players harder to prepare for games.
A day later, they practiced in San Francisco and will test their bounce-back abilities on Friday against Golden State.
"We've got to get an edge back to us, so we've got to work," Thibodeau said after practice, according to csnchicago.com. "The answer is simple. And the work is hard. If we put the proper amount of work in, the intensity will be right. And that's what we've got to get back to."
Watching the Bulls stumble to a 7-12 record since Feb. 1, it would be reasonable to believe they need better health right now more than harder work.
Help could be on the way in the form of Kirk Hinrich returning from a sore right foot. He's missed five straight games with the injury.
"If I don't have a setback between today and tomorrow as far as swelling or anything, I'm going to try to play," Hinrich told reporters at practice. "I'm feeling better, so I'm excited about it and I was able to get out here and do some things today."
While Nate Robinson has been able to score -- he and Carlos Boozer combined to tally 40 of the Bulls' 79 points against the Kings -- clearly, the Bulls function better on both ends of the floor when Hinrich is out there.
He's now missed 20 games this season with a variety of ailments. The foot problem kicked in following a March 2 win over Brooklyn.
"I had a stress reaction in a bone in my foot," Hinrich said. "It's like a precursor to a stress fracture, so it was like a bunch of swelling, and real tenderness and pressure before, but it's doing a lot better."
The Bulls don't expect Taj Gibson back from a left knee sprain or Richard Hamilton from a sore lower back this weekend. Gibson has missed eight games and Hamilton seven.
When it comes to the ongoing saga of Derrick Rose's return, there is still no date in sight, but Thibodeau did seem a little more optimistic Thursday that the former MVP is getting closer.
"With him it's just day to day," Thibodeau said. "He had a good day today. He went hard, did a lot of stuff. But we'll see. The big thing is his improvement and then how he feels the next day.
"As long as he continues to make progress. We went pretty hard today, so we'll see where he is (Friday)."
There's a logjam developing between the No. 5 and 8 seeds in the East, with the Bulls basically even with Boston and Atlanta for fifth place, and Milwaukee closing in from behind. The Bulls don't play any of those teams again this season.
Getting at least 1 win on this three-game California trip seemed to be a reasonable goal before the Bulls left town. But they were blown off the floor by Sacramento, which is 20 games below .500.
If there's reason for optimism, it's the remaining schedule. After hosting Denver on Monday, the Bulls will have 16 games remaining and just five of those opponents currently have a winning record.
"You can't get bored with the grind of the season. You've got to work through a season," Thibodeau added. "I've got to make sure we have the right amount of intensity."