CHICAGO -- Pau Gasol has been in the NBA too long to believe in magic.
The 14-year veteran, who earned two championships as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, knows what it takes to win a title, and that's why he's a little concerned by what he has seen from his new team, the Chicago Bulls, over the past couple of games. After a poor performance on Wednesday night in a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Bulls followed up by sleepwalking through the second half and almost blowing a winnable game against the Detroit Pistons on Friday night. Like the rest of his teammates, Gasol is still convinced the Bulls have time to turn around their bad habits, but unlike most of his younger teammates, the All-Star center understands that time is running out.
"There's not a magic button here," Gasol said. "What you see in the regular season is what you're going to get in the playoffs. So we have to try to be more consistent in the last six games that we have and that's going to determine what we'll see probably in the playoffs. Now every game, it's meaningful, and that we have to be aware of that because you can't expect things to click when it's crunch time, when everybody is on. So you just got to do whatever you have to on a daily basis to put yourself in the best place regularly so you get to the playoffs and maybe try to turn it up like everybody else."
The good news for the Bulls is that they found a way to win on Friday night. So often during this up-and-down season they have found ways to lose games like this -- to weaker teams that don't have the same level of talent. But as the Bulls get set for what they hope is a long run in the postseason, veterans such as Gasol and fellow championship club member, Nazr Mohammed, know that the great teams have to play better than the Bulls are playing right now.
"We just got to keep getting better," Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. "We got to understand what we're playing for. We're playing for a lot at stake right now. It was good to see guys like Naz [Mohammed] and some of our veterans speak up tonight and understand how crucial this win was."
Gibson said between the third and fourth quarter that Mohammed, the little-used veteran center, implored his teammates to play with more passion than they had shown to that point.
"Naz really got into guys," Gibson said. "He really challenged guys. And I told Naz that's what we need a lot of right now. We understand we got a lot of weapons, we got a lot of guys who can play, but we need guys to speak up sometimes and push us even harder. The coaching staff pushes us all they can, but it's different when you got guys that won a championship in front of you, giving you the right kind of advice that push you ahead, and that's what we need."
Bulls All-Star Jimmy Butler also realizes his team must play better, but he spoke for other players in the locker room who felt that at this point in the season the Bulls have to just take wins however they can.
"A win's a win," Butler said. "We take them however we can get them. I think this one was a little rough, but at the end of the day, just win games right now."
Is one perspective better than another? The safer bet is always to lean on the beliefs of players, such as Gasol and Mohammed, who have been to the championship mountaintop before. But there has always been a quiet confidence among the Bulls' younger players this season, specifically Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, that when the playoffs come around they'll be able to hit another gear. Both Rose and Noah understand that the group must play better, but both have held firm to the belief that when the biggest games come around, their team will be ready to play. It's a tricky strategy -- but one they trust will work out in the end.
"That's the plan, man," Noah said. "That's the plan. That's the plan for us to hit that switch and that next level come playoff time."