With Hinrich doubtful, Bulls catch a break

DEERFIELD, Ill. -- The second-round matchup between the Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls hasn't even started yet, but the Bulls appear to have caught a big break.

On Friday, it came to light that that's Hawks guard, and former Bull, Kirk Hinrich is doubtful for the entire series because of a strained hamstring he suffered at the end of Thursday night's Game 6 victory against the Orlando Magic in an Eastern Conference quarterfinal. While the Bulls said they would prefer Hinrich to play, nobody is going to cry that he may not be on the floor. They know how good he can be and how much of a stabilizing presence he has been to the Hawks since being acquired from Washington at the trade deadline.

"I hope he's healthy," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "He made a big play at the end [of Thursday night's game] Kirky's a helluva competitor. It will be exciting going against ... [Al Horford] and Kirky."

The respect that the Bulls have for Hinrich is evident no matter whom you speak with.

"I think Hinrich is one of the top defenders in the league," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "I thought that was a big hit for them ... Kirk has the ability to defend multiple positions. He can guard the point's, he can guard the two's, he can guard the three's. He brings a lot of toughness to a team, too."

That's why it would be such a big break for the Bulls if he has to sit out the series because of injury.

"I got a lot of respect for Kirk," Bulls forward Luol Deng said. "I came in at 19, [he was] my point guard. All those guys, not just Kirk, but [Andres Nocioni], when I was coming in, younger, the way they played the game, kind of rubbed off on me. They always played hard and Kirk always played hard."

Thibodeau appreciates that work ethic, and it's obvious that he would have enjoyed coaching Hinrich had he not been traded last summer to clear cap space.

"I have a lot of respect for him because of the way he competes," Thibodeau said. "The stuff that he's done over his career. He was in here a lot this summer. From a distance, you could see his professionalism. But that's the way of the league. Sometimes you get the opportunity and sometimes you don't. But I got a lot of respect for him."

Noah and Horford meet again: Aside from wanting Hinrich to play, Noah also seems to be looking forward to squaring off against his former University of Florida teammate Al Horford. Horford got the better of Noah during a game on March 2, going off for 31 points and 16 rebounds, but now that Noah is healthy again, he feels as if he will be able to slow down Horford a little more.

"I know Al pretty well," Noah said. "We've had success together in college. And we've had a taste of what it feels like to win a championship. And I know that's the only thing he cares about. And that's the only thing I care about, so it will be fun."

The last word: "They say the only way to get experience is to get experience. It's the next step for them. And they got to keep improving. The important thing is they've had the right approach all year, going step by step. So as long as they're not skipping steps, and they're concentrating, doing the right things every day, they're going to be prepared. And if you're prepared, that's all you can do," -