- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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MEMPHIS -- While you ponder a world in which the Bulls starting lineup on Tuesday night may include Jannero Pargo, Flip Murray, James Johnson, Taj Gibson and Brad Miller, let's take a look back at some of the more interesting tidbits of the last few days:
The fact that the Bulls are struggling terribly right now and have lost seven in a row shouldn't come as that much of a surprise when you consider the quality of the teams they've been playing and the fact that they have been eaten alive by the injury bug. Derrick Rose has been out since getting crunched by Dwight Howard (again) last Thursday, and it sure didn't sound as if the organization wanted him to rush back to the court in the next couple of days when he spoke after practice on Monday.
Luol Deng (calf strain) has been out for about a week now and since he didn't practice, the guess is that he is at least a few more days from coming back. Joakim Noah (plantar fasciitis) is actually starting to run a little bit more, but he's at least another week away and probably more. Bulls head coach Vinny Del Negro admitted that it was going to take a while before his young center got back into the type of condition that he needed. At least Kirk Hinrich (suspension) will be able to play once again on Wednesday in Dallas.
Florida Funk: The Bulls trip to Florida couldn't have come at a much worse time. According to the ESPN Stats and Analysis team, the Bulls have now lost five straight to both the Magic and the Heat. Since the 1999-2000 season, the Bulls are 6-14 against the Magic in Orlando and 4-17 against the Heat in Miami. Yikes.
Why is that back-to-back always so tough?
"Because of Dwight Howard and Dwyane Wade," Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro told me last week. "Orlando's loaded. And you're playing good teams. Road games are difficult. They’re just hard going down to Orlando and Miami, especially when it's a back-to-back."
Gibson feeling the heat: Gibson has been dealing with his own case of plantar fasciitis throughout most of the season and it's becoming a common scene to see him soaking his feet in a big vat of ice after the game. At this point, the Bulls simply can't afford to lose anyone else; especially Gibson, who has provided the team with consistent defense and rebounding throughout most of the season.
"On to the next one, that's what I'm feeling," he told me after the loss to the Magic last Thursday night. "We got to steal one. We got to get one coming up. Once we get that one, that will get guys going. Get guys motivation up. Get guys spirits up. In this league it's tough. When you go down the road and you've had a couple losses it's kind of tough to get that one win. We just need to [come] together and get that one win."
Just one night later, Gibson was as angry after a game as I've seen him all year. Obviously, he was upset at how badly the team is struggling, but he was especially perturbed because of a play Dwyane Wade and the Heat made against him during the third quarter. He felt he was hit long after the whistle.
“It was a dirty play," the rookie said. "Dwyane and a couple other guys undercut me. I was just [mad] because the referee saw it, and he just asked me, 'Are you OK?' I was like, 'Am I OK?' I was just [angry]. I just learned how to control my anger because I’m a rookie. I'm not going to explode on anybody at that time. I felt like exploding at them because that was a dangerous play. The play was over for at least a minute, minute and a half. He just ran up on me."
Miller gets mad: Speaking of anger and frustration, veteran center Miller was as candid as he's been all season while discussing the questionable flagrant call that was levied against him late in Friday's game against the Heat. The same one that sparked Hinrich blowup/suspension.
"I'd say questionable doesn't describe [how I feel about the call]," Miller said. "Obviously, I led the league in flagrant fouls with Ron Artest back in the day. I know what their definition of one [is]. Apparently, from the playoffs last year, they vary [from] person to person and situation. I was up against the odds in that scenario for sure.
While Miller was very careful with his words, it was easy to read between the lines and see how frustrated he was that Wade received a favorable call in that situation.
"I was just standing there with my damn arm up," he said. "He comes in like he always does, and I just don't fall down. That's the joy of certain people against certain people."
Rose shows heart: If you're looking for a Bulls bright spot over the past few weeks, it would be hard to find on the court. Off the floor is a different story, though. Before the team got to Orlando last week, the organization received a letter from a 13-year-old Kissimmee, Fla., boy who credits Rose with saving his life. Isaiah Walter was injured in a dirt bike accident last summer and used a picture of Rose that his father taped to the ceiling of his hospital room as motivation to get better. He told Rose that each time he looked at the picture he would dream about getting better and becoming an NBA player. Walter has recovered since the accident and is currently playing for his middle school team; a recovery that has been much faster than doctors expected.
To Rose's credit, he read the letter and agreed to meet Walter before the Bulls game in Orlando. You could see the joy in the boy's face, (his family's as well) as Rose shot around with him on the floor and took him back into the locker to meet all his teammates. Rose even took the time to introduce Walter to members of the media. A kind gesture, indeed. During an otherwise brutal stretch for the Bulls, this kind of gesture puts things in perspective for the players. Good for Rose to take the time and make a memory that one kid surely will not forget for the rest of his life.
While considering the Bulls' plight, here's some food for thought.