The Warriors are still within reach of the record 72-win season of the ’95-96 Bulls, but that prospect seems less likely after two odd losses against clearly inferior teams last week. The Warriors elected to rest Draymond Green when they played the Nuggets on Wednesday and the versatile big man’s absence was acutely felt, especially his playmaking ability. The absence of Draymond highlighted his impact on Curry’s shooting: Without Draymond there to make plays while Curry moves without the ball (and gets open), Curry was left passing more and settling for less clean looks than he’s accustomed to. Draymond stretches the floor, too, with his shooting ability, which opens lanes for Curry to drive.
Their second loss came to the Pistons on Sunday as Harrison Barnes returned to the starting lineup for the first time since coming back from a high ankle sprain. They’ve been easing him back in off the bench so far and he did not shoot the ball well in his return, going 2 for 11. Barnes is a methodical player off the court and there’s no doubt that he’ll return to the high level of play he was showing early in the season as he contributed critically to their historic 24-game win streak.
As of Sunday, the Warriors have played exactly half of their 82 regular season games. At 37-4 they are still on pace to beat the 72-win record but as this past week showed, it’s going to take a lot more than Curry’s jump shooting theatrics; it’s going to take a healthy Draymond Green and back-to-full-strength Harrison Barnes.
TOUGH WEEK FOR BULLS UNDERSCORED BY INJURY TO NOAH, LEAVING HOIBERG WITH DECISION ON BIGS
The Bulls struggled this week, squandering the sunny outlook (and the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference) that they had enjoyed during a six game win streak that included big wins over good competition like the Raptors, Pacers, and Celtics. But they followed that streak with a skid that has seen them lose four of the past five games. The one win in the past five games was an overtime victory over the Philadelphia 76ers, the worst team in the NBA. Jimmy Butler racked up a career-high 53 points in the game, but it’s a bit ominous that he needed to score that much in order to squeak out a win over a team driven by rookies and D-League call-ups.
To make matters worse, Bulls veteran center Joakim Noah sustained a shoulder injury against Dallas on Friday. He’ll be undergoing yet another surgery and will be out for most if not all the rest of the year. This compounds the Bulls’ ongoing issues with having strong leadership among the players as their franchise pieces of a few years ago (Derrick Rose and Noah) start to show their age and are not able to lead on the floor. Jimmy Butler has been stepping into a leadership role in the locker room and Noah’s prolonged absence will make Butler’s influence all the more important. Luckily for the Bulls, Butler is having a career year and is embracing the role.
Hoiberg now has a more stark set of choices when it comes to his choice of bigs. There has been an embarrassment of riches at the power forward and center positions but some combinations haven’t worked quite as well on the floor. Hoiberg has tried a few different starting lineups but seems to have settled into starting Taj Gibson alongside Pau Gasol. Nikola Mirotic and especially Bobby Portis have had big games and made impacts late in games, and now that Noah will be out of the picture I foresee those two in particular getting more minutes. Portis should be given a long leash to make mistakes and try his hand because his fundamental aggression and athleticism are now going to be necessary to keep the second unit playing hard on both ends of the floor.
IOWA BASKETBALL LEGEND KIRK HINRICH COULD BE A VETERAN VOICE IN THE LOCKER ROOM
And speaking of Iowans on the Bulls: Now could be a good time for the re-emergence of Captain Kirk. Hinrich earned the nickname — which is oddly reinforced by the Horace Grant-like goggles he wears during games — by being the Bulls’ team captain for four years earlier in his career. He’s still a reliable player for solid minutes off the bench and has been up to the challenge of taking on more responsibility at the point guard position at times while Rose has struggled with injuries. He’s not his team’s best player, not even close, but he is an experienced leader and has been through countless ups and downs in the NBA.
Hinrich would do well to make his voice heard in the locker room and huddle and to have Hoiberg’s back by executing his up-tempo offense effectively when he gets minutes. In the way that the Cavaliers have LeBron James to lead but also have veteran James Jones to reinforce and support James’ message, the Bulls could potentially have an emerging leader in Jimmy Butler being backed and supported by the veteran Hinrich.
The Bulls will need positive voices in Noah’s absence as he is one of the most vocal and influential members of the team. And it’s critical to stay positive and competitive when going through a tough losing streak like the one the Bulls have found themselves in.
Melvin Ejim Hits Game-Winning Shot for D-League Erie Bayhawks: ISU favorite Melvin Ejim earned some positive exposure in the NBA D-League Showcase game this week by hitting a go-ahead shot and then icing the game with free throws.
Niang Passes Marcus Fizer on All-Time ISU Scoring List: Georges Niang has passed one of the all-time great Cyclones, Marcus Fizer, on the scoring ladder. Marcus Fizer had an amazing ISU career that included an ultimately heartbreaking appearance in the Elite Eight in 2000. His pro career was sadly shortened due to injuries. Niang is now within range of passing his former coach Fred Hoiberg in all-time scoring.
Editor’s note: This article was written Jan. 17