One Gear, One Grind Again For Bulls

Tom Thibodeau has built a reputation as a coach (Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

Tom Thibodeau has built a reputation for playing his players for long minutes. (Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

CHICAGO – All hail the conquering heroes! The Chicago Bulls overcame a 19-point deficit against the Denver Nuggets Friday night to wrap up the month’s schedule at 8-0 and nail down the NBA’s unofficial preseason championship. So unofficial, of course, that it doesn’t even exist.

Baseball lore has Reggie Jackson and these days Carlos Beltran, but the NBA doesn’t do much celebrating of Mr. Octobers. For obvious reasons.

While other teams with designs on reaching The Finals in June sat key players as their slates of tune-up games wound down, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau – with less than four minutes left in the finale – had Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy on the court. Taj Gibson had sat down moments earlier, and the only reason Joakim Noah wasn’t out there was that he still was nursing a groin injury suffered in the first week of camp. Oh, and Kirk Hinrich was on the side after dealing with a concussion and sore shoulder.

That accounts for Chicago’s top eight players, still grinding or still recuperating in the dwindling minutes of the preseason. Which is the point.

Starting center Noah logged less than 20 minutes in a single preseason appearance 10 days ago and is questionable for the regular-season opener at Miami Tuesday. Hinrich, the third guard, is iffy too. And the black cloud of injuries that has hung over the Bulls in recent seasons will be looming large again at the start of this one.

Playing harder and generally longer than the next guy is the Thibodeau way. It worked well enough to earn the Bulls the NBA’s best record in the coach’s first two seasons (112-36) and pushed them – without Rose all season, with pieces from the spare-parts bin – past Brooklyn into the Eastern Conference semifinals last spring.

But Deng, Hinrich and Noah all were hobbled at various points, the revolving door to the trainers room kept spinning and the Bulls never did get what they really wanted.

So it has to be asked: Might there be a better way? Some contenders ease their way through the regular season, eyes firmly fixed on April, May and June. Yet here are the Bulls, gutting out the preseason, nailing down that top defensive rating (87.9 points per 100 possessions) for what it’s worth.

“You’re building winning habits all season long,” Thibodeau had said before tipoff Friday. “If you try to establish your habits when you get to the playoffs, I don’t know what you get done there. It’s too late.”

Afterward, in vintage Thibs form, he offered a glimpse at those habits: “Each and every day is important. You can’t skip a day. You can’t only work when you feel like it, if you feel good. You have to work on the days when you’re not feeling great. You’ve got to help push the team forward. And everyone has to work together.”

The rap remains, though, that Chicago players log too many minutes in meaningless stretches until they get hurt and aren’t logging any minutes at all.

“Right now, that seems to be what everyone says,” Thibodeau said. “So like, when a guy plays 20 minutes a game and he gets hurt, does anyone say he got hurt because he’s not playing enough? Injuries are part of the game. You have to do all the things necessary to condition yourself to go through a long season. it’s very competitive. When you look at the makeup of teams, a guy like LeBron [James], a guy like [Kevin] Durant, a guy like Paul George, they’re going to play big minutes. Most teams, two or three guys are playing a long time.”

Never mind that he-pulls-a-knife-you-pull-a-gun thing from the movie. With the Bulls, the Chicago way is grinding down the competition. And sometimes oneself.

“I only know one system, that’s Thibs’ system,” Gibson said. “Where guys tend to want to be out there. Guys want to go out there and keep playing. It could be a flaw – who knows? But right now, we just focus on what we think. We don’t really worry about what the whole league thinks.”

It made sense that Rose played heavy minutes this preseason – he’d been out for 17 months, he was healed and fresh and he needed to get in game shape and flake off rust. That led logically to teammates playing longer, too, to adjust to Rose’s game and speed.

But as players go down and come back, there’s a chasing-their-tail element, too. For instance, Thibodeau has made it clear that the rotation guys will need to work in Noah’s game – the play-making center – when he returns. So Deng, Boozer, Butler et al will face extra burn for that. And so on.

Deng, who played banged-up last season until complication from a spinal tap made even that impossible in the playoffs, loves heavy minutes … at least when he’s surviving them. Taking all 82 games seriously in search of the No. 1 overall postseason seed is a worthy goal, he said.

But losing it after one or two rounds is true Gift of the Magi stuff, if they’re undermanned by the time they get there. So how do the Bulls find their balance?

“I don’t know,” Deng admitted. “It’s a long season. We’ve got to do a better job ourselves. The trainers are doing a better job of just focusing on that, on each individual. Derrick is doing an amazing job. Jo is in there. It’s also maturing and taking care of your body.

“We’ve got to be healthy when it comes to April and then get going. I think we understand that even more now.”

Then, as he spoke to a small cluster of reporters late Friday, Deng’s tone shifted.

“It’s different for everybody. I believe that it’s good for me. I’ve been through different coaches. I’ve been with coaches who didn’t practice as much, I’ve been with coaches who didn’t push you as much. I think some guys suffer from it and I think some individuals really excel from it. … I don’t know if we’re there yet to give guys three days off and come back. I don’t know – we never tried it.”

Turns out, though the reporters had their backs turned, Deng had seen Thibodeau walk into the nearly empty locker room to grab a cold drink. The Bulls veteran finally broke out laughing.

“You saw how I answered that when he walked in?” Deng said. ”’He’s the nicest guy ever. The nicest guy in the world!’ “

Laughing about their grinding ways, like winning, is OK in October. But it would mean so much more if Deng and the Bulls could do that come June.

30 Comments

  1. freddy says:

    you have to like Thibs spirit. However I question his methods…with injuries piling up the last couple years it might be wise for the Bull upper management to start tells Thibs he needs to limit certain players to ensure they are rested and healthy at the end of the season….

  2. IHateChicagoBulls says:

    Bulls aren’t that good

  3. Jimmy Buckets says:

    Its over…. Chicago unite this is 2014 champion basketball

  4. lucas says:

    its safe to say bulls is going to win it all.sorry miami fan it was fun why it lasted.LOLLLLLLL

  5. Hoidiho says:

    I like the Bulls as a regular season force, but in the playoffs I think they need another year and a deeper bench – so that everybody can rest and stay healthy.
    Let me say 1 thing about Miami: sure the competition in the east is larger than ever in the big 3 era, but they adjusted every off season to their weak points with decent additions. We all know what LBJ Wade & Bosh can do, but think about Ray Allen (saved them in Game 6) and the impact of Birdman. Those additions helped them to overcome 7 game series.
    And this year, they added Oden & Beasley. If those 2 pan out, just by giving them e a spark from the bench and size, they can beat the rising pacers again.
    However, if Miami sleeps on any contender, if they think they are going to win every game 7 just like this, then they are going to be surprised this postseason courtesy of the pacers OR the bulls.

  6. bulls have to go against some of the best teams in the playoffs

  7. Master says:

    Bulls are gonna manhandle the east

  8. joel says:

    ROSE YOU ARE A BETTER AMONG THEM ALL, HOPE YOUD STAY IN GOOD HEALTH,IN THIS SEASON AND FOR THE FUTURE,OOH I MISS YOURE THE WAY YOU PLAY FELLA,GOD BE WITH YOU.

  9. joel says:

    rampaging bulls are now back, with DROSE 100 percent its either HEAT/PACERS in the east finals, now their tusk is getting sharper and sharper plus the sting of the rose will be the poison to shutdown the heat/pacers team, NO DOUBT.

  10. Jao Romero says:

    Thibodeau should be moved far away from any head coaching jobs. he’s not just destroying careers, he’s destroying lives out there. there’s a difference between building a winning habit and just plain stupidity.

    by burning your starters longer, not only are you inviting injury, you’re also holding back the development of your bench.

  11. Jao Romero says:

    Thibodeau should be moved far away from any head coaching jobs. he’s not just destroying careers, he’s destroying lives. there’s a difference between building winning habits and stupidity.

  12. Tony Moua says:

    I have to say chicago better land anthony if they wanna win a champion. They have no offense that can back up thier defense. If you watch the nba finals players says defense wins champion? But its the other way around great offense always wins defense. Example san antonio spurs better d than mia but mia had better offense same goes with pacers and bulls.

  13. okc2014 says:

    I thought Chicago did very well in the pre-season, even though it doesn’t count. They seemed to be the only team that put out their starters like it was regular season. I liked it cause I got to see Rose back in action. And I wasn’t let down. Noah needs to get better so he can be a part. Rose can’t carry this team all by himself. Maybe they can’t beat Miami, but it’s exciting to have Rose back.

    • Kwesi says:

      The bulls WILL beat the heat if they are healthy. People are still all caught up in the two championships miami won and overrate them. This year I just don’t see a team that has the kind of rebounding and defense the bulls have

      • Pakyaw says:

        @ kwesi, your not overrated team if your a champion, especially back 2 back… Stop the hate, learn how to appreciate …

  14. OKC2014 says:

    Maybe they can’t beat Miami in the finals, but I find it exciting to watch Derrick Rose.

  15. Brandon says:

    Not really a rose fan at all but loul deng your a beast!

  16. ballerz says:

    d-roze is a baller

  17. I think this may be the hungriest team in the NBA. They were contenders before Rose went down and even last season should have been if they had a healthy Rose. Now they are hardly mentioned, the league has forgotten, they’ve been counted out. With Rose making his comeback and Deng in a contract year, they have a lot to prove.

    • rastajinjo says:

      counted out? are you out of your mind? they are feared.. and be more feared with D Rose back in his MVP form.

  18. acryn says:

    if the big 3 is still there (miami) the drose and the company have no chance for ECF mark my words peace be with you lol

    • FartyPantsMcGee says:

      the pacers are loaded as well

    • Ktothestone says:

      There is no doubt that beating Miami will be tough indeed! But if the Bulls can stay healthy and Rose really is back to MVP form I dont see why not!

      • Tony Moua says:

        Even if rose becomes mvp rose again its not enough to beat lebron james. James shut down tony parker the same way hes going to shut rose down in the playoffs.

    • NILE76 says:

      Y’all some funny and unobservant people. LOL
      Rose isn’t on this team alone. he has 2 current Allstars and a former Allstar who is playing well. Got some vets who don’t start and can still “Ball”, and he has young folk who play light’s out team D. To say they have “No chance” is one sided and totally baseless.

      Try again!!!

  19. jason rodriguez says:

    Just hoping bulls will make to the final, just the rest of the team needs to put more effort to it and not leave rose alone in the crunch time,if not work this season ,they need to look forward to next summer and land a big free agent!!

    • NILE76 says:

      What do you mean? Rose is never left alone. Deng, Noah, or whomever else is on the floor is always hustling. Rose just has to know when to gun it and when to dish it. I believe he is in the process of completing that part of his maturation.

  20. justsayin says:

    If they intend to be the “hardest working team in showbusiness” they should start playing a James Brown track during introductions.