As Bulls bench suffers, starters racking up too many minutes

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It has been one of the secrets of the Bulls regular-season success the past couple years — coach Tom Thibodeau fully trusted a bench made up of Omer Asik, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver and C.J. Watson. They could play big minutes, play tough defense and either hold or stretch leads the starters gave them.

All those guys are gone and their replacements haven’t cut it. Nazr Mohammed and Marco Belinelli don’t even touch the court. The three guys off the bench that do — Nate Robinson, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson — are not playing near the level of last year’s bench mob.

It shows in the Bulls record. And it’s starting show in the minutes the starters are starting to rack up, notes Mark Schanowski at CSNChicago.com.

Luol Deng and Joakim Noah rank first and second in the league in average minutes played. Deng played 47 minutes in the nightmarish loss to Milwaukee, getting a one minute break midway through the second quarter, even though the Bulls were way in front most of the night….

The NBA season is a grueling marathon, and even the fittest players can break down if not given proper rest. All five Bulls’ starters have had injury issues in the past, and it’s crucial to keep them healthy until Derrick Rose can get back. We know Thibodeau wants to win every game, and no one can blame him for that. But looking at the bigger picture, finding minutes for the likes of Belinelli, Mohammed and even Vladimir Radmanovic could keep the starters healthy and fresh for a stretch run with Rose back in the line-up.

Thibodeau needs to balance staying within striking distance of Milwaukee on top of the Central Division and having guys rested and healthy enough to make a run with Derrick Rose once he does return sometime after the All-Star Break (most likely).

But this is the price the Bulls management consciously made to get short term deals so they can chase another big free agent to pair with Rose in 2014. They can’t expect to cut corners — to not match offers like the one Asik got — and have no impacts.

Grizzlies’ James Ennis fouls out then hits half-court shot (video)

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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Against the Pacers last night, James Ennis missed all three of his 3-point attempts… that counted. And he makes this one after fouling out?

Mike Conley more than picked up the slack to lead the Grizzlies to victory.

Pelicans’ Dante Cunningham jumps on scorer’s table, Anthony Davis jumps on him (video)

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The Pelicans are effectively out of the playoff race, but Dante Cunningham and Anthony Davis are still competing — even if it looks a little silly.

That tone and a big game from DeMarcus Cousins (29 points, 16 rebounds, six assists) led to a 121-118 win over the Mavericks.

Goran Dragic puts alley-oop pass through rim (video)

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Goran Dragic is very good at alley-oops.

Too good.

With a “shot” like that falling, the Heat trounced the Knicks, 105-88.

Hawks’ Tim Hardaway Jr. kneed in the groin while defending 76ers (video)

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Since trading for him, the Hawks have gotten Tim Hardaway Jr. to buy in defensively.

After this help defense on 76ers center Richaun Holmes cost him dearly, I wouldn’t blame Hardaway if he gave up on the endeavor entirely.