Vinny Del Negro likes to insist nothing should be read into his exhibition starting lineups.
Doesn't he know what Bulls fans do for a hobby and sportswriters do for a living?
Only two exhibitions remain after Tuesday night's 109-105 victory over the Mavericks at American Airlines Center, leading to natural questioning of Del Negro's backcourt pairing of Kirk Hinrich and Larry Hughes.
"It would be a guess on your part to try to figure out what's going to happen opening night," Del Negro said. "The lineup might change periodically throughout the season. It's who's playing well and who's playing hard and what lineups work best together. That has been hard to figure out from the standpoint of our injuries and absences."
Indeed, Derrick Rose missed Monday's practice to attend his uncle's funeral, then came off the bench to score 30 points and lead a dramatic fourth-quarter comeback from a 19-point deficit against Dallas reserves.
And speaking of injuries, the Bulls surprisingly played without Ben Gordon. The guard told athletic trainer Fred Tedeschi after participating in the morning shoot- around that his jammed right big toe felt good and he wanted to play.
The problem is Gordon still isn't totally confident his toe can handle back-to-back games. So with a Wednesday game in Minneapolis, Del Negro made Gordon's decision for him.
"It was my call," Del Negro said. "He wanted to play. But he's still having some irritation there. We want to be cautious because we have time here to heal him up. I'd rather do that then he goes out and he's sore for a couple of days.
"We'll re-evaluate it [Wednesday] and see how he feels. But maybe he won't play [Wednesday] either."
Questioned how much time the Bulls actually have because Gordon has played in only one exhibition and the regular season begins in less than a week, Del Negro didn't hesitate.
"We need to get him in practice and games, obviously," he said. "You want to get some sort of rhythm with the regular season coming close. But we have to be smart about it."
Gordon, confirming Del Negro told him to sit down, wore a bemused expression regarding the decision.
"He wants me to stay off it until it gets 100 percent, I guess," Gordon said. "I only played one game. I felt good in that game. I don't feel I'm in horrible shape. But, obviously, you want to get out there and play."
As for the starting lineup, it might not matter unless general manager John Paxson suddenly acquires Kevin Garnett, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Chris Paul.
The Bulls lurched out of the gate, shooting 19 percent with six turnovers in the first quarter. For the second straight game, the Bulls had more turnovers than assists and trailed by 17 when Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle pulled his starters.
Tyrus Thomas posted his third straight double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds and also had five blocks.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times