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Bulls’ depth tested again

(MCT) — CHICAGO — The need to adapt and adjust to absences in the lineup is nothing new for the Bulls.

“We’ve been playing like this forever, it seems,” said forward Taj Gibson, in his fourth season in the league. “Every year we always have one or two guys hurt. Crucial players hurt, and we always continue to step up.”

With Kirk Hinrich the latest starter to join the ranks of the walking wounded, the Bulls’ depth is being severely tested — and thus far the team has not only survived but thrived.

The first 19 games of the season have been played without star guard Derrick Rose. Richard Hamilton is sidelined for at least the next few weeks, and Hinrich is considered day-to-day after tweaking his left elbow in the second quarter of the Bulls’ 93-85 victory over Knicks on Saturday night. That’s three starters potentially missing when the Bulls next take the court Tuesday night against the Clippers, but there is no sense of panic.

“In the NBA, you can find an excuse every night,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “The bottom line is you have to find a way to get it done. I don’t want these guys looking forward or looking back. I just want them to concentrate on the Clippers, our next game. I want to keep concentrating on improving.”

Credit Thibodeau’s focus on defense for the confidence the Bulls (11-8) maintain no matter who is in the game. After holding the Knicks to an opponent season-low 32.1 percent shooting, the Bulls have allowed an average of 87.4 points per game on foes’ 40.3 percent shooting over the last eight games.

“Defensively, we’re a deep team,” Gibson said. “We can guard 1-5. If you look at our lineups, we have guys who can guard a lot of different positions. We are switching a lot of different positions. We try to take guys out of their rhythm. We can go with bigs or we can go small, and that’s what’s great about our team.”

Added veteran forward Luol Deng: “Coach does a good job with the way we practice of having guys ready. Guys coming in go through all of that in practice — all the plays — so they’re familiar with the situation.”

During the Bulls’ current season-long three-game winning streak, Gibson, Marco Belinelli, Nate Robinson and Jimmy Butler have effectively filled in to ease the pain of those in pain.

Belinelli, in particular, has been stellar. In four games starting in place of Hamilton, who tore the plantar fascia in his left foot, Belinelli is averaging 16.8 points while shooting 47.9 percent, including 38.1 from 3-point range.

“When somebody goes down, another guy fills in,” Robinson said. “That’s what a team is for. You have Marco filling in for (Hamilton), myself for Kirk (and) Kirk for Derrick. It just goes down the line.”

If Hinrich is sidelined against the Clippers and beyond, it will be the latest strain for a team familiar with overcoming injuries.

“Kirk is big for us,” Deng said. “He gets the team going and runs the team well. We’ve been there in the past where guys go down and the next guy steps up.”

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