Bulls open strong against Kings as Tyrus cheers


Dec 21

It’s not quite like Michael Jordan’s much anticipated return to the Bulls in 1995, but the Bulls, nevertheless, are looking forward to the return of Tyrus Thomas, likely back home Saturday against the New Orleans Hornets.

Actually, I jokingly made that suggestion to Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro before Monday’s game with Sacramento given the buildup and questions regarding Thomas’ return.

Though there was a dash of seriosity (that’s my new word. Hey, Jordan and Phil always made up words) because it’s not like the Bulls are getting back an All Star.

“We don’t have any saviors,” Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “Tyrus can help us out with our depth and he’s another guy who can guard threes, fours, protect the basket, use his athleticism around the rim and take some pressure off some other guys.

“First, we want to see how his (fractured left) arm feels,” said Del Negro. “Get him in condition and understand what we are doing. We changed a few things since he’s been out, but I see no problem with that. It’s getting some repetition, some practice and conditioning and see how he feels.

“No question Tyrus coming back gives us another player out there,” said Del Negro of his short, mostly seven player rotation. “We miss his athleticism, the way he can block shots and get us out on the break.”

And then with Tyrus having finally practiced Sunday, the Bulls opened Monday’s game against the Kings with their best quarter of the season in leading 38-19.

Could it be Tyrus’ inspiration?

Just kidding. But that’s the concern bringing back a starter to a struggling team. Thomas was barely in the starting lineup just before he hurt himself in a weight lifting accident and shooting a disappointing 44 percent.

Thomas can be a free agent after this season, so the Bulls assumed he’d be as motivated as he ever has been. The team was 2-2 at the time and soon went into a skid.

It’s clear they miss him, or, at least, what he can be with a short rotation and limited basket protection and shot blocking. The question is whether Thomas will return anxious to begin putting up some numbers as a pending free agent or as a team player who’ll defend the basket, block shots and run the floor. Which former coach Scott Skiles famously said he never did. Thomas has since, and now the question is whether he wants to run it to be all he can be in fighting for the Bulls or run it toward getting out of town.

Though Del Negro says Thomas’ return to the court is based on the doctors’ approval, I’m fairly sure he’ll play Saturday as players like to play against teams from their home area so their friends can watch the games. Taj Gibson said as much when the Bulls hosted the Knicks last week.

When players return like Thomas does after a seven-week absence, they either have a big first game because they have fresh legs and pent up energy or their timing is missing. So we’ll see. At this point the way things have mostly gone for the Bulls, they’ll take any Tyrus they can get.

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