Bulls’ challenge remains the same as postseason nears


Mar 25

When Chicago followed up a 132-92 dismantling of the Sacramento Kings on Monday with a 114-81 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday, it marked the first time the Bulls have won two straight games by 30 or more points since Jan. 10-11, 1995.

Having posted a remarkable 246 points in those two games—the first time that’s been done since April 14-16, 2008, when the Bulls scored 258 points—is it possible this team could be as good offensively as it is defensively? Not necessarily, said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau.

As Thibodeau explained on Friday, it was the defense that sparked the offensive explosion.

“It started with our defense—defense and rebounding to get into the open floor to get some easy baskets,” said Thibodeau. “It allowed us to get a rhythm into the game. We were inside-out and having Carlos [Boozer] is a big plus. It adds a lot to our offense. Joakim [Noah] has gotten a lot more comfortable. We’re also sharing the ball well and our screening is improving. The ball is moving, we’re going inside-out and when guys are double-teamed, without hesitation they are making the right play.”

Standing atop the Eastern Conference with a one-game lead over the Boston Celtics, Thibodeau added that the biggest challenge for his Bulls with only 11 games left following their matchup at the United Center with the Memphis Grizzlies remains the same.

“It never changes—the challenge is for us is to be a 48-minute team,” said Thibodeau. “You want to see how close you can be to being that each and every night. We have to do that consistently. I think you get that through the way you practice and prepare, by not changing your approach to focus in on whatever is in front of you at that particular moment. The really good teams are able to accomplish that. That’s what we’re striving for.”

Given that Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah have played together in just 20 games this year, you might say this team is still a work in progress. But that’s not bad for a group that has gone 16-4 in those games and still managed an overall record of 51-19, second best in the NBA.

Aside from the obvious MVP-caliber season from Derrick Rose and the steady play from Luol Deng in Boozer and Noah’s absences, Thibodeau is quick to credit the second unit for that success.

“When you look at the team, we felt very good about our bench,” said Thibodeau. “We felt we had gotten people who had started a number of games in the league. So if there were injuries, foul trouble or whatever, if those guys had to play extended minutes, they could handle it because they had already proven they could do it.”

Although Thibodeau insists using a game-by-game approach, the big picture is hard to ignore. Earning the top seed in the Eastern Conference would mean home court advantage until at least the NBA Finals. In other words, a strong finish could pay significant dividends for the Bulls.

“I think it’s important for our team because when you study the playoffs, usually the teams that do well are the teams that are playing the best and the healthiest,” Thibodeau stated. “We want to have both things going in our favor—we want to be healthy and playing our best ball as we’re going into the playoffs.”

Bulls vs. Grizzlies season notes

The Bulls lead the all-time series 17-13 (.567) and they are 12-3 (.800) all-time against the Grizzlies at the United Center … earlier this season, Chicago defeated Memphis 96-84 at the FedExForum … Derrick Rose posted his first career triple-double with 22 points, 12 assists and 10 boards … last year, the Grizzlies swept the season series against Chicago for the first time since 2003-04 and for just the third time ever … prior to last year’s sweep by Memphis, the two squads split the 2008-09 season series (1-1), marking the fourth year in a row that the two teams produced a split (every win by the home team) … Chicago has not swept the season series against Memphis since the 2004-05 season … last year versus the Grizzlies, Luol Deng averaged 23.0 ppg on .563 shooting, and Derrick Rose averaged 20.0 ppg … Zach Randolph averaged 24.5 ppg and 15.0 rpg in 37.0 mpg against the Bulls last season … in 2009-10, Chicago shot .441 from the field versus Memphis compared to .500 by the Grizzlies; Memphis also outrebounded Chicago by an average of 44.0 to 34.0 … Memphis and Chicago have never played a head-to-head overtime contest.; the Grizzlies are the only team in the NBA that the Bulls have not gone to overtime with.

Audio—Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau’s pregame comments (03.25.2011):

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