SALT LAKE CITY—Luol Pipp? Wally Gordon? Kirk "Wally Pipp" Hinrich?
When the Bulls' Lame Three are ready to play again, will they get back in the lineup with the way the Bulls have closed this Western Conference trip?
Saturday night's 97-87 loss to the Utah Jazz— and unfortunately those defeats do add up at the end of the season — was still another spirited, Bulls circa 2005-2007 effort in a season where there have been too few.
"We finally have the intensity we need out there," said Thabo Sefolosha, who scored 22 points to match his career high for the second time in three games. "The last couple of games we showed we can compete against any team. Everybody is positive now going back home."
The 20-30 Bulls are not exactly expecting a parade after a 2-4 trip, but once again, in a season in which the smallest positives need a microscope, the Bulls rallied from 14 points behind in the third quarter. They scrapped to within two before the accumulation of travel, games and injuries caught up with them and the Jazz pulled away behind Carlos Boozer 22 points and 12 rebounds and Deron Williams' 15 points and 11 assists.
"We ran out of gas at the end," interim coach Jim Boylan said. "But we played hard and competed. Every guy has to realize we're starting to play a little bit better because our effort is consistently better. When the other guys come back, that can't change. We can't change the effort just because we're getting guys back who were injured. Those guys have to come back and play as hard as the rest of the guys have been playing."
But if it was a gauntlet Boylan was throwing down, only Hinrich seems to be picking it up for now. He said he will play Tuesday night against New Orleans at home while Ben Gordon will get another MRI on his wrist Monday and Luol Deng will remain out with his Achilles' injury through the All-Star break.
The Bulls aren't scaring anyone quite yet, but Boylan's challenge suggests the famous Wally Pipp story in which the New York Yankees first baseman went out of the lineup and was replaced by Lou Gehrig, who then played 2,130 consecutive games.
It's not like anyone is untouchable on the Bulls anymore.
After a sluggish start for both teams, Sefolosha energized the Bulls with a lob dunk on a pass from Chris Duhon (eight assists) and was fouled. Duhon then dropped a clever inside pass to Ben Wallace for a score and Sefolosha hit a three-pointer and a flying slam after a Williams turnover. The game was on.
Aaron Gray gave the Bulls a nice stint with some inside moves against the half-court Jazz game. But the Jazz, behind Williams, ran out on every occasion and led the Bulls 25-4 on fast-break points.
The Jazz kept looking like they would break the game open, leading 49-39 at halftime and 57-43 midway through the third quarter. But the Bulls clawed back with tough play—haven't heard that much this season—as Joe Smith had 11 of his 14 points in the third quarter. But after getting within 67-65 with a minute left in the third, backup guard Ronnie Price scored on a drive and a three-pointer as the Jazz led 72-65 after three and pulled away.
With the strong play, Boylan is sending a message to his ailing trio.
"We've played together as a team, played defense, moved the ball," he said. "I don't give back jobs. Guys out an extended period of time have to work their way back in. We give everybody an opportunity.
"It's a situation where time is running out [to make the playoffs]. After the All-Star break there will be 30 games left. The time to win is now. No one is given anything. Everyone is going to have to earn playing time. And earn a starting spot. We're just going to put the team on the floor to start the game that is the best combination to help us win."