CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bulls are getting healthy at seemingly the right time of the season.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau doesn’t want to hear about that, though.
“I don’t get wrapped up in the talk,” Thibodeau said after practice on Friday. “I want to see performance. I want to see the work go into it. I know how you win. We have to be more concerned with the process of how we’re approaching it and are we putting the work in to give ourselves the best chance possible. Talk is talk. I want to see action.”
Some of the optimism surrounding the Bulls is based on action, especially in the case of Jimmy Butler. He scored 23 points on 7-of-8 shooting Wednesday in his second game back after missing three weeks because of an elbow injury.
“Yeah, it’s very important,” Bulls forward Mike Dunleavy said of players returning. “Jimmy looks good for being out so long. Taj is working his way back. Obviously, we have one more guy we’re waiting on. But to get these guys back and also get a little time in practice the next 10 days, two weeks will be good.
“We want to be playing our best basketball heading into the playoffs and heading into April. We still have time to do that. I think we’re trending in that direction. Winning four of five is pretty good, just keep going in that direction.”
That one guy still missing is obviously Derrick Rose. Rose, who is still restricted from contact, was the lone player not to participate fully in practice on Friday. Thibodeau said Rose could begin taking contact next week.
“Most likely it will be next week, but I don’t want to jump ahead,” Thibodeau said.
Dunleavy thought Rose has appeared fine during non-contact drills, but he also acknowledged that meant little at the end of the day.
“He looks good,” Dunleavy said. “But unfortunately the games are full contact. He’s got to be looking good when he starts doing contact and practicing and that will come in due time. Hopefully in time for our playoff run.”
The Bulls still hope Rose returns this season, but for now they’re concentrating on creating some chemistry among their healthy players. It’s been a season full of injuries, and the Bulls haven’t been healthy enough to create a consistent rhythm. It’s part of the reason why Thibodeau took advantage of their practice time Friday to scrimmage.
“It was good because it gives us a chance to build some continuity,” Thibodeau said. “We have to concentrate on the guys we do have and we have to improve. There’s a lot of areas to clean up and try to build continuity. We’ve had guys in and out all year.”
Dunleavy understood why some would question whether the Bulls have played enough together to be in sync when the playoffs do arrive. He thought their level of talent could overcome that.
“I’m sure that argument can definitely be made,” Dunleavy said. “We haven’t had a lot of time together. We got a lot of guys that can really play. My thought would be somehow, someway we can get in a lineup in there that will figure it out and be pretty good down the stretch.”
Our front-office rankings conclude with a look at the NBA's 30 owners.
We asked our ESPN Forecast panel to rate every team's ownership group. In particular, we asked the voters to rate each team's ownership in terms of their performance in guiding the franchise to overall on-court success, both in the short and long term.
Here's how the 30 owners rank, according to our panel:
Our front-office rankings continue with a look at the NBA's 30 current head coaches -- the league's on-court decision-makers.
We asked our ESPN Forecast panel to rate every team's coach. In particular, we asked the voters to rate each coach on his guidance and leadership in terms of how it affects overall on-court success, both in the short and long term.
Here's how the 30 coaches rank, according to our panel:
TORONTO -- The Chicago Bulls don't have the best record in the league, but they might lead the NBA in confidence. Despite all the ups and downs they've dealt with on and off the floor this season, the Bulls believe they can knock off anybody. That confidence was on display in a 116-103 win over the Raptors on Wednesday as the Bulls outscored Toronto 39-21 in the fourth quarter.
"We don't play to lose that's for sure," Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler said. "I think we can beat anybody. So I don't think it matters what seed we end up in. We just want to win as many games and get in a rhythm and get rolling heading into the playoffs."
While it might be more advantageous for the Bulls to slide into the fourth or fifth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs -- avoiding a potential second-round matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers -- Chicago is taking on a "win now" mentality with just nine regular-season games left.
Bulls center Joakim Noah said earlier this week that he believes his squad is "the toughest team to beat in a seven-game series." He isn't backing off those words as the Bulls get set for one of the most important postseason stretches in recent memory.
"I think we're a team that's gone through a lot," Noah said. "A lot of adversity. And I think our time is coming. I think we're a very talented group. And when you put all that talent together and we all play for the right reasons, I think we're going to have a shot and that's all you can ask for."
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau certainly doesn't believe in playing to lose for a better seeding placement. He has trained his team over the past five years to try to win every game. He believes in going right at an opponent, instead of avoiding one for as long as possible. His players have taken to that mentality as well.
"You play to win," veteran Pau Gasol said. "We are aware and we want to get the highest seed possible just like everyone else. But at the same we understand that with winning games that's what we're going to accomplish. You can't focus on trying to get a specific seed."
The Bulls set a season high on Wednesday night by shooting 60.8 percent from the field, according to ESPN Stats and Info. Noah knows his team has a lot of room for improvement, but is confident that they are making strides in the right direction.
"I know that to win, these games are won on one, two possessions," Noah said. "And we all have to be on the same page. There's definitely another level we need to get to defensively. We're still making too many mental mistakes. But offensively, this is the best offensive team I've been on by far. So if we can just tighten up a little bit defensively it's going to be great."
Defense has been a Thibodeau staple over his tenure in Chicago, but the Bulls have struggled to defend at times. With so much hype surrounding a potential championship run, and so much uncertainty surrounding Thibodeau's future in Chicago, it will be interesting to see how this proud team handles the next round of play.
But in the short term, Noah and his teammates are trying to just focus on the positives. With Butler and Taj Gibson back on the floor, they are healthier than they've been most of the year. They're also confident that at some point in the next few weeks they will get Derrick Rose back as he recovers from a meniscectomy.
That's why Noah was smiling as he got ready to leave the visitor's locker room at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday night. He's happy about the present, but he's even more excited about the future.
"Right now we just got to stay focused on us," Noah said. "That's the truth. We just got to focus on us and getting better. Guys are coming back from injuries and we feel like we have the deepest team in the league so it's a good feeling. We got a lot of weapons. We just got to keep getting better as a unit, keep polishing our games individually and it's exciting."
Toronto has dropped three of four. It hasn't defeated Chicago since Dec. 31, 2013.