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On the road, off the track
Like never before, Kirk Hinrich had Golden State's attention Monday night.
"Hinrich has just proven to be really, really good," Warriors coach Mike Montgomery said before tipoff at The Arena in Oakland. "He plays hard all the time. He can make open shots. He's clever. I just really think a lot of him.
"I don't know if he has surprised anyone or not, but he's been awfully good."
Heading into the game, Hinrich ranked among the NBA's best with his 18-point scoring average, 6.6 assists per game, .484 field-goal percentage, .563 three-point percentage and .875 free-throw percentage.
But on Monday, Hinrich ended up going 1 of 8 in the first half of the Warriors' 100-82 victory. He finished with six points on 2-for-10 shooting. The last time the teams met, last Wednesday, Hinrich scored 23.
Every Bull struggled this time around. Collectively, they looked more like the team that lost 37 straight games on the extended November road trip than a team on the rise. They snapped that streak last season, not that any fan among the 16,454 here could tell as Jason Richardson poured in 32 points to lead the Warriors.
The loss dropped the Bulls to 1-39 since 1998 on their infamous circus trip, so named because their travels coincide with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus' visit to the United Center.
So much for the confidence the Bulls had gained by taking San Antonio to overtime before losing and by beating Golden State and Utah just last week.
Coach Scott Skiles said the most distressing part Monday night was the team appeared to quit in the third quarter.
"I guess that's probably what it looked like," Hinrich said.
If Hinrich finds his stroke in a game, opponents are dumbfounded. As Montgomery indicated, Hinrich's shooting percentages command a measure of respect.
"They're going to start playing him a lot tougher," the Bulls' Andres Nocioni said.
When defenses make adjustments, it gives Hinrich flexibility to use his playmaking abilities. Playmaking skills won't get you far if your teammates aren't hitting their shots. Nocioni had the most success Monday. He finished 6 of 11 and led the Bulls with 17 points.
Darius Songaila, who has been struggling since impressing against Charlotte in the season opener, took his slump to new heights. He went 1-for-3 and had one rebound in 12 minutes. He also picked up four fouls.
The Bulls shot 33.7 percent from the floor and 52.6 percent from the free-throw line. Having Hinrich set up teammates such as Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, Michael Sweetney or shooting specialist Eric Piatkowski off the bench had been working.
Piatkowski, however, wasn't available Monday because he was sick with a stomach problem, Skiles said. Piatkowski is expected to join the team in Portland to play the Trail Blazers on Wednesday night.
Increasingly, Deng is becoming a formidable offensive threat. He had to exercise patience in his comeback from wrist surgery last spring, but it was worthwhile for the Bulls.
Skiles said Deng, who scored 11, ultimately could make a return to the starting lineup.