Guard Payne hit with D- mo­tion

Bulls pre­par­ing to be with­out him for stretch run

Chicago Sun-Times - - BULLSBEAT - HERB GOULD Fol­low me on Twit­ter @Her­bGould and at TMG­col­lege­s­

It’s look­ing as though the Bulls, who have 12 games left in the reg­u­lar sea­son, might have to sol­dier on with­out guard Cameron Payne.

The Bulls will start an im­por­tant week Tues­day in Toronto with­out Payne, who’s be­ing as­signed to their Windy City team in the D- League for at least a few days.

Payne, who was ac­quired in the trade Feb. 23 with the Thun­der that sent Taj Gib­son and Doug McDer­mott to Ok­la­homa City, has missed the last three games with sore­ness in his sur­gi­cally re­paired right foot.

‘‘ We’re go­ing to send Cam down to the D- League,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said after prac­tice Mon­day. ‘‘ He’s go­ing to prac­tice [ Mon­day], and then he’ll play in [ the] game [ Tues­day]. And then the plan is to see how things go with the game, prac­tice with Windy City again on Wed­nes­day and then play in the game on Thurs­day, as well.’’

But how­much of this is for re­hab and how much is a re­as­sign­ment in which Payne, who hasn’t daz­zled with the Bulls, needs to prove his NBA cre­den­tials? The ev­i­dence leans heav­ily to­ward the lat­ter.

Payne has been un­der­whelm­ing in his nine games with the Bulls, av­er­ag­ing six points and 1.7 as­sists in 15 min­utes. Over­all, it hardly has been the stuff of a point guard of the fu­ture.

The thing is, the Bulls can’t wait. One game out of the fi­nal play­off spot in the East­ern Con­fer­ence, Hoiberg and his play­ers are fo­cused on mak­ing the most of their fi­nal dozen games.

The Bulls’ four games in the next six days will tell a lot. The stretch be­gins with a visit to the Rap­tors, a team the Bulls have beaten a mind-bog­gling 11 con­sec­u­tive times.

After that, two of the Bulls’ next three games are against the Pis­tons ( Wed­nes­day) and Bucks ( Sun­day), who are just ahead of them in the jock­ey­ing for the fi­nal play­off berths. In other words, by the end of the week­end, the Bulls’ post­sea­son prospects prob­a­bly will have taken a se­ri­ous turn for the bet­ter or worse.

Rest­less fans might not be in­ter­ested in a team that’s not likely to stick around long in the play­offs, even if it gets there. But that goal mat­ters to the play­ers.

‘‘ It would mean a lot [ to make the play­offs],’’ guard Michael Carter-Wil­liams said. ‘‘ We’re def­i­nitely not in panic mode. We’re more hun­gry than ever. We go into each game try­ing to win. Nowit’s crunch time, so we’re re­ally bit­ing at the bul­let. We’re just go­ing out and giv­ing it our all each night.’’

Hoiberg seems more bur­dened than ex­cited about the ef­fort to try to sal­vage some­thing. Asked whether he was hav­ing any fun at all, he said, ‘‘ No,’’ then added: ‘‘ You just try to go out there and have good prac­tices. This is the first time in al­most three weeks where we’ve had two [ open] days— a day [ off] to give the guys an op­por­tu­nity to catch their breath, then bounce back with a good prac­tice. [ We had] a spir­ited prac­tice. You hope that car­ries over to the game, not only [ Tues­day] but the re­main­der of our stretch.’’

Is it stress­ful?

‘‘ No, you can’t look at it that way,’’ Hoiberg said. ‘‘ It’s all about the prepa­ra­tion. It’s about buy­ing in. It’s about do­ing the lit­tle things.

‘‘[ In] our sec­ond half [ Fri­day] against Wash­ing­ton, we did amuch bet­ter job. In the Utah game [ Satur­day], [ from] the mid­dle of the first quar­ter . . . all the way through the fourth, we were pretty darn good. You take those things that you do well, and you try to build on it.’’


Guard Cameron Payne, whom the Bulls ac­quired in a trade with the Thun­der on Feb. 23, has av­er­aged six points and 1.7 as­sists in nine games with the team.

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