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Bulls ready to go full speed and minutes ahead
by Sam Smith
Posted on Oct 26
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or their Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.
The Bulls finished the NBA preseason the only undefeated team, leading everyone in point differential and one of two teams yielding fewer than 90 points per game. The Bulls were leading in field goal defense and in the top three in rebounding.
Of course, the statistics don’t count. But they suggest a Bulls team as prepared as any for the season.
But are they too prepared?
That has long been the biggest question raised about Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau and the vagaries of the last three seasons, most of which have been interrupted by injuries and playoff disappointments.
But Thibodeau, who is regarded as one of the top five coaches in the NBA, remains committed to his philosophy. And you’ll not get objections from his players. They appear anxious for this season and seem to want to enjoy as much of it as possible. By playing.
“You have to think of having the best record,” said Luol Deng after Friday’s victory over Denver. “You’ve got to be healthy, obviously. I’m not taking anything away from Miami, but it could have been very different if San Antonio had the better record. The finish in our mind matters. From the start of the year, that’s how our coach coaches. He wants to win every game, wants the best record. That’s how we play.”
Deng’s point is it’s a matter of opinion. But the best record, which may mean pushing yourself a bit more, does matter in the playoffs. If the Spurs were playing the final two games back in San Antonio instead would they be champions? Would Miami have even gotten there if they didn’t have Game 7 at home in the Eastern Conference finals?
Some questioned the way the Heat pushed themselves during their 27-game winning streak last season compared with, say, the Spurs who regularly rested their best players and finished with the second best record in the West. But if Russell Westbrook were not injured in a freak play, would the Spurs even have gotten there playing their conference finals on the road?
Deng perhaps more than any other Bulls player should be more concerned about playing time given he’s led the league in average minutes per game the last two seasons. But Deng does his own Ernie Banks of let’s play 40.
“You’ve got to do a good job taking care of yourself,” Deng says. “But I always want to play. I feel I get out of rhythm when I sit out a while. But you’ve got to be smart about it. This year in terms of if you feel something and don’t feel right we have enough guys to win that night.”
Of course, if you’re hurt, don’t play. But don’t be too cautious.
And Thibodeau, who has grown somewhat sensitive about his rotations given being asked about it in so many ways the last few years, made it clear before the Denver game that what you’ve seen is what you’ll get.
“You’re building wining habits all season long,” said Thibodeau. “(If) you try to establish your habits when you get to the playoffs, it’s too late at that point. The challenge is to be playing your best at the end. That is going to be necessary to be successful in the playoffs.
“Talk to guys like Jordan, Paul Pierce, (Tim) Duncan early in his career. Those guys conditioned themselves to play big minutes,” Thibodeau noted. “Pippen played big minutes here. You start pacing yourself, you get yourself in trouble.
“When a guy plays 20 minutes in a game and gets hurt does anyone say he got hurt because he’s not playing enough?” Thibodeau wondered playfully “Injuries are part of the game. You have to do all the things necessary to condition yourself to go through a long season. Look at guys like LeBron and Durant and Paul George. They’re going to play big minutes. Most teams have two or three guys playing a long time. When we were in Boston and won championships, we cut (Kevin) Garnett’s minutes. But we did not cut Ray Allen’s and Paul Pierce’s minutes. They had to play big minutes. Your best players are going to be on the floor.”
Unfortunately, not all the Bulls best players have been on the floor with Joakim Noah playing just under 20 minutes in just one preseason game with a groin issue. Also, Kirk Hinrich sat out the last three games after a concussion and a shoulder problem. Hinrich seems more likely than Noah for Game 1 in Miami Tuesday. But no one has been ruled out with practices Sunday and Monday and Noah anxious to play.
“You have to play together; we need everybody out there,” Thibodeau agreed. “With Joakim, we have to adjust to that. He’s unique in how he can pass the ball. He’s different. He’s a playmaking center. We want to get him out there. The only way you can do that (have coordination) is practice and when a team practices well they play well.”
So the Bulls need to work Noah back in, though he has practiced on and off in the preseason.
“The challenge is they have a few days to put a lot of work in,” said Thibodeau. “We will see what he can handle. If Jo and Kirk are not out there, we expect whoever is out there to get the job done. I think we are more than capable. But we have to get those guys (Noah and Hinrich) up to speed.”
And Thibodeau has his philosophy and the Bulls players are ready. It’s go time. Throttle all the way out.
“Within the season things happen,” agreed Taj Gibson, who averaged 12.9 in a strong personal preseason on 60 percent shooting. “You never know. Joakim is hurt now. Just keep working and pray for best. So far so good. I only know one system. That’s Thibs’ system. Guys tend to want to be out there. We focus on what we think. People will say different things. We worry about what we think. We’re good.”