When Mike Bibby underwent surgery last offseason to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb, it was of no concern to the Atlanta Hawks. When he walked off the court Wednesday holding that same thumb, they couldn't have been more worried.The Hawks hope to have their point guard back in the lineup on Friday when they look to maintain their hold on the Eastern Conference's eighth playoff spot against the visiting Chicago Bulls.
Bibby has played 22 games with the Hawks (31-40) since he was acquired from Sacramento on Feb. 16, and he's given them some long-lacking consistency at point guard, averaging 13.4 points and 6.4 assists as Atlanta has climbed into the final playoff spot in the East.
But he injured the thumb on Wednesday against Milwaukee on a drive to the basket late in the third quarter, and left early in the fourth of the Hawks' 115-96 win, their fifth victory in seven games. X-rays were negative, and Bibby is listed as day-to-day with a sprain.
"I think he's going to be fine," coach Mike Woodson said. "But we'll treat him (Thursday), and I'm sure he'll be ready to go on Friday."
Bibby had struggled somewhat initially getting adjusted to the Hawks' offense, but has come on in his last five games, averaging 18.4 points. He had 18 points and seven assists on Tuesday, but Atlanta lost 103-94 at Chicago.
If Bibby can't go in the rematch against the Bulls (28-43), who are three games behind Atlanta for the eighth spot, Acie Law will have to step in. Law has averaged only 4.5 points thus far in an injury-plagued rookie season, but is happy to have a veteran like Bibby to teach him.
"You learn from a guy like Mike, the way the offense flows, and how much things run better on the floor," Law said. "You can't help but get better. ... It's a great person for me to play under, to get my career started."
With Bibby running the offense, Joe Johnson has gotten more looks over the last month. He's averaging 27.0 points and 6.8 assists in his last 13 games, though the 15 points he scored against the Bulls on Tuesday were his fewest in 12 games.
Johnson is averaging 24.3 points in three games against Chicago this season.
The Bulls are still in the Eastern Conference playoff picture with 11 games to play, but haven't been able to put together any consistency all season. They've yet to win three straight, and trail Atlanta by three games.
They followed up their win over the Hawks on Tuesday with a 121-99 loss at Philadelphia the next night.
"I really don't know what it is. We have so much potential on this team," said Bulls rookie Joakim Noah, who's averaging 13.0 points and 7.3 rebounds in his last three games. "I feel we play with energy, it's just we don't play together."
Chicago has received inconsistent performances throughout the season, and its last two games provided more examples. Andres Nocioni didn't score against the Hawks on Tuesday, then had 16 against the 76ers. Drew Gooden had 31 points and 16 rebounds against Atlanta, and followed that with two points on Wednesday.
Luol Deng, the team's second-leading scorer at 17.2 points per game, had only six at Philadelphia.
Ben Gordon leads the Bulls with 19.3 ppg, but he's reached his average only once in his last five games. Gordon is averaging 14.3 points against the Hawks this season.
Chicago has won 13 of its last 14 games with Atlanta, although the lone loss was a 105-84 defeat on the road on Jan. 13.