CHICAGO (AP) -Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich was ready to return for Chicago's game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night, about a month earlier than initially anticipated after he underwent thumb surgery in November.
With forward Luol Deng also available after missing eight games with a sprained left ankle, the Bulls had their full core available for the first time this season. Guard Thabo Sefolosha was also back after missing a game with the flu.
``It's kind of exciting,'' Deng said. ``For some reason, it feels like opening night.''
Coach Vinny Del Negro said Hinrich would likely play 15 to 20 minutes in a reserve role, with Deng playing about 25 off the bench.
Hinrich was not expected to return until next month after he tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right thumb during a 100-83 victory over Phoenix on Nov. 7. That happened when he tried to knock the ball away from Amare Stoudemire in the third quarter.
ys later and missed 31 games. Before that, he was averaging 8.3 points and 4.0 assists in mostly a backup role.
While his return could give the struggling Bulls a boost, it also adds to a glut in the backcourt. Guard Larry Hughes, who missed the first eight games with a dislocated right shoulder, wants a bigger role but the odds of that happening appear slim - particularly with Hinrich back.
It also means Del Negro has to juggle minutes.
``It's not going to be easy,'' he said. ``But the guys that are going to play hard and give us the best chance will be out there, with also this sense of trying to develop some of these younger guys. It's not easy. But I'd rather have that problem than the one I've been having.''
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