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Bulls enjoying a season-high win streak
by Adam Fluck
Posted on Apr 11
Winners of a season-high seven games in a row and now a season-best 15 games over .500, it’s easy to see why Bulls players are having fun with just three regular season games remaining.
“It’s always fun when you’re playing basketball,” said Bulls guard Jimmy Butler on Friday, prior to his team’s 106-98 win over the Pistons. “But I feel like we’re in a groove. Playoffs are right around the corner. There’s nothing but smiling going on.”
Yes, the Bulls acknowledge that the playoffs are soon to start, just eight days away in fact. But that is about the extent of it. Following Tom Thibodeau’s lead, they remain focused on their next opponent and take things step by step.
“That approach has served us well and I don’t want to change how we do anything,” said Thibodeau.
While the possibility of a 50-win season remains in play should Chicago win out, more importantly, so is the opportunity to claim the third seed in the Eastern Conference. Friday’s victory, coupled with Toronto’s loss to New York, moved the Bulls into sole possession of third in the East.
It’s striving for a higher position in the postseason while competing and making progress along the way that All-Star center Joakim Noah loves so much.
“This is the life we chose,” said Noah. “I’m living my dream. I get to play basketball for a living in front of 25,000 people that go crazy for us at the United Center. I try not to take any of these moments for granted. Even though the playoffs are coming up and people always want to talk about what’s going on ahead, it’s important for us to stay focused on our team and our progress. I’m just enjoying the moment.”
Still, as Noah admits, there is a fine line between enjoying himself and taking the game seriously.
“You can play with an edge and have fun,” Noah explained. “When we play the Miami Heat, I’m not smiling, but I’m having fun. I love to compete and our team loves to compete. We’re playing well right now and we’re focused. What’s more fun than that?”
Butler agreed of the balancing act, saying: “We’re more than just competitive basketball players and it’s always good to be around each other. But definitely whenever you step out there between those lines, you’ve got to go to work.”
As for Thibodeau, it’s winning that is fun. And it just so happens to also be the top priority.
“The winning to me is what it’s all about,” said Thibodeau. “That’s how you measure yourself. I think when you put the work into it; I think when there’s a commitment by an entire team to put everything you have into it and play for each other; there’s a good feeling when you do that. We have a great group of guys that has made a serious commitment. They’ve chosen to fight throughout the course of the year and we have to continue to fight.”
Familiar faces return to the United Center
Chicago’s roster increased from 12 to 15 players since the team last played at the United Center.
The Bulls signed guard/forward Ronnie Brewer on Monday, then added guard Mike James and forward Lou Amundson on Thursday. All three have previously played for Chicago before.
“Because we’re familiar with them and they’re familiar with us, I think it’s good in general,” said Thibodeau. “Where they’re going to help the most is just with their approach and their attitudes. Obviously they’re brought in to bring energy and help the team prepare. Then if there’s a need, we’re not going to be afraid to call upon them.”
“It’s good to have everybody on board with Mike James, Lou and Ronnie,” said Noah. “Those guys are great guys, guys we’ve had in the past.”
Butler and Noah rack up the assists
Joakim Noah’s passing skills have been applauded this season and deservingly so.
Noah is averaging a career-high 5.3 assists per game and if he continues at that pace, it would be the most by a center since 2003-04, when Vlade Divac averaged 5.3.
In addition, he currently leads the Bulls with 408 assists, a franchise record for a center that’s now his after surpassing Tom Boerwinkle’s 1970-71 mark of 397. The last center to lead his team in total assists for a season was San Antonio’s David Robinson with 381 assists (4.8 apg in 80 games) in 1993-94.
But Jimmy Butler has shown as of late he can find his teammates as well. In a win over Washington on April 5 he recorded a career-high nine assists. He followed that up with seven on April 9 in a victory over Minnesota.
“I don’t do anything out of the ordinary,” said Butler. “Jo tries to thread the needle but that’s what playmakers do and that’s why Jo is always in double digit assists. He risks a lot.”