Previous ArticlesHinrich helping to shoot the Bulls into contention
Bulls find success believing in themselves
by Adam Fluck
Posted on Mar 26
The Chicago Bulls are on the verge of clinching a spot in the 2014 NBA Playoffs.
And while that moment could happen in the next day or two, don’t expect a great deal of celebration from the Bulls, who see it as another step in a long process.
Though as Taj Gibson admitted, it would be fun to go crazy and spray each other with champagne as baseball teams do upon clinching.
“I wish we could do that,” laughed Gibson. “But we can’t. I don’t think Thibs would let us do it anyway. It’s so different because in baseball they play so many games. At the end of the year, you deserve that. In basketball, once you clinch it’s another step and you’ve got to focus right away. Teams in this league don’t feel sorry for you and you’ve got to always be hungry no matter what. We understand that and we just want to keep pushing.”
Joakim Noah downplayed the significance of locking in a playoff berth even more.
“We’re not worried about that,” said Noah. “We’re just trying to control what we can control, work hard, stay focused on what we need to do, and play good basketball down the stretch.”
The players’ comments will surely resonate well with Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who constantly stresses the need to take things one day at a time with the emphasis always on improvement.
“It’s important to go step by step,” said Thibodeau of clinching. “If that happens along the way, it’s part of the process. We have to work, concentrate, improve and be ready for each game, and hopefully you get there. You’re doing everything with the idea that you want to be playing your best in the end and you want to be as healthy as possible. We have to keep grinding away and we’ll take our shot at the end.”
Following a day off on Tuesday, Thibodeau said the Bulls are taking advantage of three days in between games to rest and recharge while preparing to host the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday.
As for one of Thibodeau’s messages during practice on Wednesday, he reminded his team where it stood as the 2013 calendar year came to an end. After falling to Toronto on Dec. 31, Chicago was 12-18.
“Our bandwagon was really empty,” recalled Gibson.
Thibodeau encouraged his players to think about those who doubted them while believing in themselves more than ever.
Belief, though, was just part of it. The Bulls have backed up their belief on the court, where they have won an Eastern conference-best 28 games since Jan. 1, the second best record in the conference at 28-13.
It’s a comeback that has catapulted Chicago (40-31) into contention for the third seed in the East and securing home court advantage in the first round. And along the way, they’ve taken a great deal of pride in proving those who counted them out wrong.
“Of course,” affirmed Noah. “You’ve got to use that as motivation. It definitely makes things very clear to us what people thought of us a couple months ago compared to what they think of us now. But it really means nothing. It’s what we think at the end of the day, that’s the only thing that matters. Expectations, whether they are good or bad, don’t help you win ballgames.”
As both Gibson and Noah agreed, believing in each other and the team collectively believing in itself have been crucial.
“Thibs believes in us and we believe in each other,” said Noah. “We’ve shown on the court that when we’re playing well, we can beat anybody.”
“You look at the players we have on our roster and they’re guys who are blue collar, they work hard, always have naysayers and doubters,” said Gibson. “We have chemistry and our guys work hard. That’s the mindset that we have.”
While having the right group is a significantly advantageous start, that kind of approach and mentality is also driven home by Thibodeau on a regular basis.
“The only thing that really matters is what we think,” said Thibodeau. “Once you’ve done all that you can do in terms of your preparation, concentration, work, you’re going to feel good about your chances. I think the commitment by these guys has been special. They’ve had a will and determination to overcome whatever adversity they’ve faced. Those are characteristics that you need to be successful. There’s not any magic to it. It’s commitment, work and belief in each other.”
But again, there’s little celebrating in the NBA in late March. For the Bulls, there are still 11 regular season games to be played. And it’s clear that complacency isn’t welcomed by this team.
“It feels good, but we’ve still got a long ways to go,” said Gibson. “We’re always real humble about everything we do because there’s always another step and somebody can smack you right back into reality.”
Audio—Thibodeau on staying sharp, preparing for Portland and Derrick Rose in non-contact drills:
Audio—Gibson on working the kinks out, facing Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge and always being ready:
Audio—Noah on the win over Indiana and Gibson, who he calls one of the most complete players in the league: