Chicago Bulls: Nick Friedell

Bulls trying to slow down Wall

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
9:25
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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DEERFIELD, Ill. -- Tom Thibodeau doesn't want to see Washington Wizards guard John Wall racing up and down the floor over the next couple of weeks. He wants Wall's speed to be controlled -- the Wizards' transition game to be neutralized. In order to do that, Thibodeau and his players know that they must do something that few teams have been able to do this season: Slow down Wall in the open floor.

[+] EnlargeJohn Wall, Kirk Hinrich
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsTom Thibodeau will lean on veteran guard Kirk Hinrich to stay in front of John Wall.
"It’s unique," Thibodeau said, when asked how to prepare for Wall's speed. "You have to be ready. Your offense is a big part of it -- having floor balance, being committed. Every aspect of your defense has to be five guys tied together. You’re not going to slow him one-on-one. We need five guys sprinting back, making him play in a crowd. He still has the ability to make good plays. His speed is terrific. Makes and misses, they push it hard. We have to be ready for that."

That means that Kirk Hinrich is going to be charged with setting a defensive tone in this series. The veteran guard, who played with Wall in his rookie season, is going to be the man Thibodeau leans on to stay in front of the All-Star guard. It's a challenge that Hinrich believes he and his teammates will be ready for.

"We have to be good as a team in transition," Hinrich said. "You have to get guys back and form a wall and [be] low to the ball and try to slow him down. It's easier to talk about it than do it."

Forming a wall to beat Wall will be a focal point of Thibodeau's defensive plan in this series.

Confidence is solid: The Bulls are not feeling cocky as they head into Game 1 Sunday night, but they do feel confident. They aren't making any grandiose predictions about how far they'll go in the postseason, but they do believe that if they play together that it will be tough for any team to beat them.

"It’s one game at a time, one play at a time," Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. "We feel that we have an opportunity to do something special. We believe in the locker room, we believe in going far, but it’ll all come down to one play at a time, really. In the playoffs, everything gets really shrunk down to how hard guys play, knowing the play calls and aggression. It’s a lot of heart. That’s the main thing. Without those things, you’re really going to have a rough night."

The last word: Thibodeau isn't buying into the notion that the Wizards don't have much playoff experience. While they haven't been to the playoffs in several years as a group, he did note that many guys have played in important games before.

"I think they have a lot of experience also. When you’re young like Wall and [Bradley] Beal, they have college experience where they played in big pressure games. The rest of their team is experienced. [Marcin] Gortat has been around and been in a lot of big games. Andre Miller has been in a lot of big games. They have a number of guys -- Al Harrington is another -- that have been in big games. That team is well put together. They’ve got a good blend of young and old. You can’t overlook the importance of having veterans on your team. They’ve done that. When you look at their second unit, and it’s Andre Miller, a [Martell] Webster, a Harrington, a Nene -- those guys can start for a lot of teams."

Noah (bereavement) misses practice

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
1:29
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
DEERFIELD, Ill. -- Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah did not practice Friday after being excused for bereavement.

Noah
Noah flew to New York on Thursday to attend to the personal matter. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said he is hopeful Noah will be back at practice on Saturday.

A source with knowledge of the situation said Noah is expected to fly back to Chicago on Friday night.

"Jo's out for bereavement," Thibodeau said. "Hopefully he'll be back (Saturday). But everybody else is here ... he's back in New York but hopefully he'll be back (Saturday)."

Chat alert: Nick Friedell at 3 CT

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
10:20
AM CT
By Staff
ESPNChicago.com
ESPNChicago.com's Nick Friedell takes your Bulls-Wizards questions during a live chat at 3 p.m. CT Friday. Click here to submit your questions.

3 Points: Sizing up the Bulls-Wizards series

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
1:09
PM CT
By Staff
ESPNChicago.com
Bulls/WizardsAP Photo/Nam Y. HuhJohn Wall averaged 19.3 points and 8.8 assists during the regular season, including 20.7 points in three games against the Bulls.
Every week, Nick Friedell is joined by two other ESPN writers to weigh in on three questions that are on the minds of Chicago Bulls followers.

1. What about the Wizards should concern the Bulls?


Friedell: How will the Bulls be able to contain John Wall and will Tom Thibodeau be willing to use Kirk Hinrich more than his customary 25-30 minutes a night? Nene and Marcin Gortat have given the Bulls problems in the past. They can score and they know how to play on the blocks. It's going to be up to Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson to limit each player in what will be a physical matchup.

Jon Greenberg, ESPNChicago.com columnist: I'll be Captain Obvious and say Wall. In going 2-1 against the Bulls this season, Wall averaged 20 points (shooting 50 percent from the field) and eight assists. With time to prepare, the Bulls will have a solid game plan to limit his penetration, swarming him off pick-and-rolls and disrupting his flow. No one preps better than Thibodeau, and his players listen with religious fervor. But Wall is finally realizing his potential as an All-Star-caliber player, and you can't always corral talent. Another area of concern is where the Bulls are the strongest. Chicago tends to have an advantage over most teams down low when Noah and Gibson are paired together. But with bruisers Nene and Marcin Gortat, the Wizards will give the Bulls' dynamic duo some trouble.

Scoop Jackson, ESPN.com columnist: Their ability to shut teams down defensively, and the Wizards aren't the greatest offensive team in the league. The Wizards finished 10th in the NBA in field goal percentage, and the Bulls were the second-best team (behind the Pacers) in opponents field goal percentage. Usually, especially with a team like the Bulls, when the playoffs begin, defenses have a deeper impact in games. It takes most offenses a few games to get adjusted and going, and I think that's going to be the situation with the Wizards. They have six players (including Webster at 9.7 points a game) who average double digits. In this series against the Bulls, not only are all six of those players going to have problems reaching their averages, but collectively there probably won't be one game when all six score in double figures. And that eventually will be their downfall.


2. What's the most intriguing matchup between the Bulls and Wizards?


Friedell: I'm curious to see what unfolds between Jimmy Butler and Bradley Beal. Both players are young, talented and they want to make a bigger name for themselves. They will be going after each other every game, and it should be fun to watch.

[+] EnlargeBradley Beal
AP Photo/Jason DeCrowGuarding Bradley Beal, who averaged 17.1 points this season, will be a tough assignment for Jimmy Butler.
Greenberg: Hinrich vs. Wall will be interesting. While their styles are, um, different, Hinrich had a hand mentoring Wall in his rookie season, and now the student must beat the master to become a true ... Ah, just kidding. Seriously, though, Hinrich has had a great season, because he hasn't had to exert himself every game thanks to the addition of D.J. Augustin. Hinrich is averaging 29 minutes a game and has been bulldoggy on defense. While the Bulls truly play a team defense, Hinrich will be responsible for disrupting Wall's flow. Butler against Beal will be another individual matchup to watch. Here's another question: How will the Wizards defend the Noah point-center offense?

Jackson: Beal and whoever is guarding him from game to game. Between Butler, Tony Snell and Ronnie Brewer -- Hinrich is going to have his hands full with Wall -- Beal is going to have the Sybil of matchup problems. The Bulls are going to show him so many different looks with so many different players in front of him, it's going to be a thing of beauty either watching them confuse the hell out of him or him figuring it out and dropping 20-plus every game.


3. Who wins the series and why?


Friedell: The Bulls in six. They are playoff-tested. They want to prove this season hasn't been a waste, and they are confident. On top of all that, they are as healthy as they've been in Thibodeau's tenure heading into a playoffs -- aside from Derrick Rose of course. The Bulls just have too much talent, too much experience and too much defensive prowess in the end.

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Greenberg: Call me a homer, but I'm saying the Bulls in six. They haven't lost consecutive games since Feb. 1-3, so I don't see that streak ending so soon. But the Wizards will still win at least a game, and I'm guessing two. I don't think the Bulls will steamroll Washington in their wins either. This will be a fun series to watch, but I think the Bulls are well-conditioned and mentally ready to advance in the playoffs.

Jackson: The Bulls. They are just, excuse me, have just shown themselves to be, a better team than the Wizards over the course of this season. On the real tip though, we are going to find out in this series if the Wizards have any fight in them. We know the Bulls do, and eventually that's going to be the factor that wins it for the Bulls. But if the Wizards show that they have the will to not wanna lose, to win a few games in this series that they aren't supposed to win, then next year -- with the help of signing one midlevel vet in the offseason -- seeing them in the playoffs will be a problem.

Three keys for Bulls vs. Wizards

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
9:36
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
Joakim NoahGeoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsJoakim Noah's Bulls face a young and talented team in the Wizards in the first round.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Taj Gibson and his Chicago Bulls teammates didn't try to sugarcoat how difficult a matchup they believe they have in front of them against the Washington Wizards in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals that start Sunday night at the United Center.

"Tough team, man," Gibson said after Wednesday night's loss to the Charlotte Bobcats. "Tough, tough team. They gave us so many problems in the regular season. Great shooters. They've got some great bigs in Nene and [Marcin] Gortat. John Wall is playing some phenomenal basketball. Bradley Beal is playing great basketball, too. Their bench is even loaded up. I don't know. It's going to be tough, man."

The Bulls respect the Wizards, but they still believe they can beat them.

Let's take a look at a few of the keys in this series:

1. Slowing down Wall


Wall
John Wall is in the midst of the best season of his career, averaging almost 20 points a game with almost nine assists. The job of defending Wall will fall to the point guard duo of Kirk Hinrich and D.J. Augustin. Hinrich spent some time playing with Wall during his rookie year and doesn't seem surprised he has become so good.

"When he came into the league he was very talented," Hinrich said. "A good player, and just kind of the natural maturation [of a player]. He's gotten to an All-Star level; he's a great player and a great guy so I'm happy for him."

Hinrich's job over the last two weeks will be to make Wall miserable, though. The question for Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is how many extra minutes he'll be willing to use Hinrich in the playoffs. After spending the past few years battling various injuries, Hinrich has stayed relatively healthy by playing between 25-30 minutes this season. Thibodeau is going to have to decide how far he wants to push Hinrich because the veteran is clearly his best defensive option.

2. The battle on the blocks


No matter which Bulls player talks about the Wizards, usually one of the of the first things they mention is the big man duo of Nene and Marcin Gortat. The pair has given the Bulls trouble in the past, and it's worth noting the one game the Bulls beat the Wizards in this season was when Nene didn't play because of an injury. In order to win this series, the Bulls must find a way to control the battle between the big men. It will be up to Joakim Noah and Gibson to hold down the fort.

"They got a very tough frontcourt in Nene and (Marcin) Gortat," Noah said. "So we have to be ready for that. They have a great backcourt as well with Wall and (Bradley) Beal. They have a lot of talent so they're definitely a tough matchup. It's not going to be easy. Every game's going to be a tough battle, but I think we're a team that's battle-tested. We know what it takes and this is exciting. You never know what's going to happen in the playoffs. I just can't wait to compete."

3. Butler takes center stage


Since Luol Deng was traded to Cleveland, Jimmy Butler has filled in on the defensive end without missing a beat. The question for him now becomes after a full season of playing 40-plus minutes a night, will he be able to withstand the pressure of the playoffs on both ends of the floor. Butler will be asked to guard Beal and will be looked upon to provide an offensive punch. It's a tall order for the 24-year-old, but one that he's willing to embrace. His teammates believe in him, and he continues to gain more confidence in himself.

"I think we did well," Butler said of the season. "We did what we were supposed to do -- make it to the playoffs. Now it's time to win 16 games and bring the chip home."

Thibs plays with fire, Bulls still good

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
11:50
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Tom Thibodeau had a simple message for his team before it played in Wednesday night's game against the Charlotte Bobcats.

"Before the game, he was like, 'Be prepared to win,'" Bulls guard Jimmy Butler said.

[+] EnlargeTom Thibodeau
Sam Sharpe/USA TODAY SportsTom Thibodeau didn't let up on the intensity in the Bulls' regular-season finale, but that's no surprise.
Thibodeau didn't care about the fact it was the 82nd game of the regular season. He didn't care that the Bulls would be best served to land in the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff seedings and would avoid a possible second-round matchup with the Miami Heat. He didn't care that Butler had piled up plenty of minutes over the course of a long NBA season -- Thibodeau did not want to change the way he prepared his team to play at all.

"He told that to everybody," Butler said of the message. "He played guys -- he wanted to win the game. All those minutes, I think it was worth it. But, obviously, we didn't pull it out. We didn't win."

Butler sat in front of his locker stall with the same tired look on his face he usually has after games as he said this. The Bulls didn't beat the Bobcats, but Thibodeau's message was clear: The Bulls play to win every game. It is a belief that has defined him in his career and one he's not going to turn his back on now. The veteran coach knows he'll be criticized for his decisions, but he doesn't care. He doesn't care what fans think, he doesn't care what the media thinks, he doesn't care what some people in the organization think -- all Thibodeau cares about is doing what he thinks is best for his team at that given moment.

"I just didn't think we needed to do that," Thibodeau said when asked why he chose not to rest guys. "I think D.J. [Augustin] missed a game, so I think it was important for him to get minutes. Once you start resting guys, sometimes they get out of rhythm, and for us right now, I think our team is well rested. We've been concerned with rest for a while, and we've given our guys a lot of days off. So from the rest standpoint, I think we're in great shape. You want the rhythm, you want to be playing well, you got to be sharp."

(Read full post)

Rapid Reaction: Bobcats 91, Bulls 86 (OT)

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
8:47
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Let's take a quick look at how the Charlotte Bobcats earned a 91-86 overtime win over the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday night at the Time Warner Cable Arena in the regular-season finale.

How it happened: Kemba Walker had 22 points, eight assists and seven rebounds, and Chris Douglas-Roberts chipped in 13 points. Joakim Noah once again paced the Bulls to the tune of 14 points, 13 rebounds and six assists, and Carlos Boozer had 14 points and 11 rebounds, but the Bulls came up short in what could end up being a meaningless game as far playoffs seedings go if the Toronto Raptors beat the New York Knicks and lock the Bulls in at the No. 4 seed in the East.

What it means: Tom Thibodeau is a creature of habit and principle. He plays to win every game -- even if it ends up not mattering in the standings. Those beliefs were on full display Wednesday night. Thibodeau could have decided to rest his players down the stretch in this one and play for seeding, but he decided to send a message to his players that they had to play hard until the end. But the veteran coach was absolutely playing with fire in this game -- if somebody got injured or if the Bulls won and then the Raptors lost and the Bulls ended up with the No. 3 seed with the potential of facing the Miami Heat in the second round -- Thibodeau would have gotten crushed. Here's the key, though: He doesn't care what anyone thinks. He's going to pace his team the way he wants and he's going to do things his way until the end. For better or worse, he proved that again Wednesday.

Hits: Mike Dunleavy chipped in with 12 points, seven rebounds and three assists in 41 minutes.

Misses: Taj Gibson was 2-for-10 from the field.

Stats of the night: The Bobcats out-rebounded the Bulls 53-44 and outscored them 42-28 in the paint. Jimmy Butler played 48 minutes. Noah played 42 minutes.

What's next: The Bulls' playoff opponent is still to be determined. They host Game 1 at the United Center on Sunday night at 6 CT.

Bulls to open playoffs Sunday night

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
5:34
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHARLOTTE -- The NBA announced Wednesday that the Chicago Bulls will open up their postseason run at 6 p.m. CT Sunday at the United Center, regardless of their opponent.

The Bulls come into Wednesday night's game against the Charlotte Bobcats in the fourth position in the Eastern Conference. Depending on how games play out tonight, the Bulls could play either the Brooklyn Nets or Washington Wizards.

If the Bulls lose to Charlotte tonight they will finish as the fourth seed. They would also claim the fourth seed if the Toronto Raptors beat the New York Knicks, regardless of the Bulls outcome tonight. The Bulls get the third seed if they beat the Bobcats and the Raptors lose.

Augustin rejoins Bulls after birth of his son

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
3:59
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHARLOTTE -- D.J. Augustin is happy to be back with the Chicago Bulls after missing Monday's game against the Orlando Magic to be with his wife as she gave birth to a baby boy, Trey.

Augustin
Augustin proudly rattled off the details of the newest member of the family after Wednesday morning's shootaround.

"He was 7 pounds, 2 ounces and he was 18 inches, so that was pretty big for 37 weeks," Augustin said. "If he'd have stayed in 40 weeks, he would have been eight pounds, nine pounds, something like that."

Augustin joked that he thought about naming the baby after Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau given how much success he's had with his new team since December.

"I thought about Thibs," he joked. "I thought about Gar, (for Bulls general manager Gar Forman). Jimmy (Butler's) been asking me to name him Jimmy. I gave them all consideration, but I had to go with Darryl. ... He's going to be Trey. I never went by Darryl growing up. I was always went with D.J., so he's going to be Trey."

Augustin said mother and baby, the couple's second, are doing well. He hopes his new son will turn out to be a basketball player just like his dad.

"Yeah, definitely," Augustin said. "He's going to be a player. I don't know how tall he's going to be, but that's all right. We can work on his floater."

Thibs: Bulls' plan the same vs. Bobcats

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
11:51
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau doesn't want to change his team's routine as it gets set for the regular-season finale Wednesday night against the Charlotte Bobcats.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Butler
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsJimmy Butler isn't concerned with whom the Bulls will play in the first round.
The Bulls' playoff seeding is still up in the air -- they could end up as the 3-seed if they win and the New York Knicks beat the Toronto Raptors -- but Thibodeau said he isn't concerned about playing for a seed as much as he wants to keep his team in a good rhythm before the playoffs begin.

"We're not changing," he said. "So we got our normal rotation we're going to play. We're playing to win. When you look at where our guys are minutes-wise, total minutes-wise, health-wise, that's what we should do."

The ideal scenario for the Bulls if they lose to the Bobcats: The Washington Wizards beat the Boston Celtics and the Brooklyn Nets lose to the Cleveland Cavaliers. That would mean the Bulls would lock themselves into the No. 4 seed and would face the Wizards in the first round.

The Wizards were 2-1 against the Bulls in the regular season, but the Nets have a veteran-laden team that took the Bulls to seven games last season. The Wizards are a young, untested team in the playoffs.

In the long term, it would set up a potential second-round matchup between the winner of the Indiana Pacers-Atlanta Hawks series. This is important because it would mean the Bulls would avoid a potential showdown with the Miami Heat until the conference finals, assuming they were to advance.

No matter which team the Bulls face, their confidence doesn't seem to have wavered much.

"It really don't matter who we play," Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler said. "We think we can beat anybody, so whoever we match up against, we're going to take that matchup and try to get through them."

Thibodeau admitted he can't remember a season-ending day that has had this much intrigue.

"It seems like it's a lot," he said. "I think it's good for the league with so many things up for grabs so it makes it interesting."

Letting up a bit might be Bulls' best move

April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
7:26
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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ThibodeauNuccio DiNuzzo/Getty ImagesA loss for Tom Thibodeau's Bulls against the Bobcats on Wednesday would allow them to avoid the Heat in the second round.
CHARLOTTE -- Taj Gibson had to laugh at the thought.

When the topic of Tom Thibodeau resting players came up after Monday night's win over the Orlando Magic, the Chicago Bulls forward looked around at the small circle of media members surrounding him and chuckled.

"You guys have been around for a minute now," Gibson said. "You guys should know that guy in the other room over there, he's never going to tell anybody to take any rest. He's old school, he doesn't believe in that. He just believes in pushing [forward]."

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But Thibodeau always believes in doing what's best for his team no matter the situation. That's why I'd be very surprised if he approached Wednesday's game against the Charlotte Bobcats like the other 81 regular season games the Bulls have played this season. The reality for the Bulls is that while they would take the third seed in the Eastern Conference playoff seedings, they are content at the four spot.

That's because it would push a potential matchup with the Miami Heat until the Eastern Conference finals. Thibodeau and his players would never say it publicly because they do respect teams like the Brooklyn Nets and the Indiana Pacers, but they believe they can beat them. They believe they would prevail in a seven-game series against either of those teams.

Predictably, Gibson tried to brush off talk about a potential second-round matchup with the Pacers, instead of the Heat.

"We really can't look forward to the future," he said. "You've got to look at who's in front of you. Because any kind of little thing teams can feed off of, they'll use it against you. We don't want to give anybody any kind of extra confidence, any kind of extra juices. We're just focused on ourselves, just getting ready to play some tough-nosed, (rugged) basketball. We understand the stakes. We understand what it's about."

That is a Thibodeau-approved response. No matter which team the Bulls end up with, their style of play won't change. They want to break the other's team's will defensively. But that doesn't mean that Thibodeau hasn't charted a path for his team to go as far as it can.

The Bulls would be playing with fire by ending up with an improved Nets team, but the prize would be to likely a second-round matchup with an Indiana team that has gone 10-13 since March 1.

In the short-term, Thibodeau would be able to give key contributors such as Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler and Gibson a few extra minutes off while a tough Bobcats team continues to scrap for a better seed of its own.

Thibodeau has always talked about respecting the game and finding ways to succeed in various circumstances. But the best play for the Bulls may be to ease up a bit on their best players for one night.

OT: 'Jimmer-Mania' runs wild over Magic

April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
8:00
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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Jimmer FredetteMike DiNovo/USA TODAY SportsJimmer Fredette saw more minutes Monday (31) than he'd played previously with Chicago (25).

CHICAGO -- The first day Jimmer Fredette set foot inside the Chicago Bulls locker room, veteran equipment manager John Ligmanowski had to chuckle as he saw the media horde assembled around the sharpshooter's locker.

"I didn't know MJ came back," Ligmanowski said.

MJ, of course, would be the Hall of Famer Michael Jordan.

While the media attention has subsided since Fredette signed in early March, the interest level in his career hasn't. Fans are intrigued by the possibility of Fredette starring one day for the Bulls, and they got a glimpse of the possibilities Monday night as Fredette stepped in off the bench for D.J. Augustin, who was with his wife as she gave birth to a baby boy.

It was Fredette's first real chance to show what he could do with Chicago, and it was an opportunity his teammates knew he would take advantage of.

"Jimmer's a good dude and he's a worker," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "I've never seen a dude work so hard on his game every day, and it just shows. Hard work pays off. He came through, hasn't played for a long time. He comes in and delivers when we need him. That says a lot about his professionalism."

Bulls forward Taj Gibson admitted that he has spoken to Fredette a few times about being patient for his chance. That's why he took pride in the fact his new teammate dropped 17 points in the 108-95 victory over the Orlando Magic.

"It just says that he's humble," Gibson said. "And he's been working on his game no matter what and he's ready to step in. I knew from Day 1 that, when he gets his time to play, he's going to play [well]. From the first day he came, he was eager to learn. He was always in the gym, always practicing, always in the early group. I told him, 'Just be patient.' His time is going to come."

Fredette, meanwhile, was just trying to take his moment in stride. He politely answered questions in front of his locker -- saying all the right things in a room full of players who take pride in doing all the right things.

"You always want to play as a competitor," Fredette said. "But at the same time you've got to be a great teammate and make sure all your teammates know you're supporting them, and I continue to do that. Whatever my role is on this team, I have to embrace [it] and do the best job you can at."

What's next: The Bulls fly to Charlotte in advance of Wednesday night's regular-season finale against the Bobcats.

The last word: Gibson, on whether the Bulls take any solace in having beaten the Brooklyn Nets in the 2013 postseason in advance of a possible rematch in this year's playoffs. If the current standings hold, the Bulls would host the Nets in Game 1 this weekend.

"Last year is behind us, really. You can't go and dwell on the past. You just got to stay focused on the task at hand. They've got a lot of veterans, they've got some young talent -- [Mason] Plumlee's playing well. They switched the way their starting lineup is, so at the end of the day it's going to come down to who wants it more. We're just focused on ourselves right now and we know what it's going to take."

Bulls still believe they can win a title

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
11:20
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
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CHICAGO -- Joakim Noah and his teammates have a clear goal as they get set to start what they hope will be a long trek through the postseason. It might surprise people around the league given how up and down the Chicago Bulls' season has been, but it's an unwavering desire that permeates the locker room.

Noah and his teammates still believe they can win a championship this season.

"We believe," Noah said after Monday's 108-95 victory over the Orlando Magic. "We believe. Whoever we play, we're going to be a tough out. We're hungry. We want this. We believe in one another. We believe in our system. And we're just taking it day by day -- it's about taking it one game at a time. [Tuesday] it's about getting ready for Charlotte [in Wednesday's regular-season finale], and then when the playoffs come it's one at a time."

Noah, the emotional heart and soul of this team, doesn't say this in a boastful way. He shares this sentiment because he believes it. He feels this way because coach Tom Thibodeau exudes that confidence within the locker room. Thibodeau would never say it the same way -- but he believes it, too. Both men are unified in their belief that the Bulls, when they're playing together on both ends of the floor, have the ability to knock off anybody.

"We understand all the negativity that's been said our way," Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. "And we're just focused on doing our job."

That's what makes the pairing of Noah and Thibodeau so intriguing as the Bulls prepare themselves for the next stage of the season. The two prideful men thrive off that negativity. They love when people count them out, and they trust in the work they have put in over the season. They walk into each contest knowing that nobody will pour more emotion into it than them -- and that feeling is what makes the Bulls so united.

[+] EnlargeJoakim Noah
Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images"We're hungry," Joakim Noah said about his Bulls after Monday's victory. "We want this. We believe in one another."
That's also why Gibson had to laugh when the idea was suggested that Thibodeau might rest some of his players in the final days, as the Miami Heat did Monday night.

"You guys have been around for a minute now," Gibson said. "You guys should know that guy in the other room over there, he's never going to tell anybody to take any rest. He's old-school, he doesn't believe in that. He just believes in pushing [forward].

"Like he said, the finish line is ahead. You got to just run through it, you can't slow up, you can't try to trot through, just full steam ahead through it. And whatever happens, happens. Like he told us, you're going to walk through the fire together -- as a team, as a unit, nobody's going to take that from you. We've got to just keep walking through it. Don't stop for nothing."

That's the mantra the Bulls have been using all year. That's why they truly aren't concerned with how the seeds shake out. They don't seem to care all that much who they'll face in the playoffs. They just want to prove to everybody that they can win when it counts. They are hell-bent on showing everyone that this season will be remembered for a long time, despite the fact that they don't have the type of elite talent that usually separates teams in the postseason.

"Whatever happens, happens," Noah said. "Our mentality is just getting ready for the next game. Getting ready for Charlotte. From there, that's when you worry about the seedings. So we've got one more game, we're not going to try and worry about what's going to happen in the playoffs. What's happening next -- just focus on our next opponent and everything will take care of itself."

Rapid Reaction: Bulls 108, Magic 95

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
9:25
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
Archive

 
CHICAGO -- Let's take a quick look at how the Chicago Bulls earned a 108-95 win over the Orlando Magic on Monday night at the United Center.

How it happened: Mike Dunleavy led the Bulls with 22 points and five assists, while Joakim Noah almost racked up another triple-double with 18 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. Kyle O'Quinn had a nice game for the Magic, scoring 20 points and pulling down seven rebounds, but the Bulls made more plays down the stretch and took better care of the ball all night.

What it means: A solid bounce-back victory for a Bulls team that did not play well on Sunday night in New York. The question now becomes how will coach Tom Thibodeau play the final game of the season, Wednesday at Charlotte. The Bulls don't have control of their playoff destiny; if Toronto wins its final Wednesday, it will lock up the No. 3 seed. But Toronto plays at New York -- against a Knicks team the Bulls just lost to over the weekend. Will Thibodeau decide to rest some players, or will the Bulls go all-out in hopes of climbing one more spot in the standings? For now, the veteran coach has to be pleased by the fact his team got back to playing solid defense and hitting big shots when it needed them.

Hits: Carlos Boozer had 13 points and 12 rebounds in 32 minutes. Jimmer Fredette added 17 points off the bench.

Misses: Kirk Hinrich had just three points and was 1-for-5 from the field in 21 minutes. With D.J. Augustin out because his wife gave birth to a baby boy earlier in the day, Fredette played the crunch-time minutes in this one.

Stat of the night: Orlando had 20 turnovers to Chicago's nine.

What's next: The Bulls finish off the regular season Wednesday night with a visit to the Charlotte Bobcats.

Butler still trying to make name for himself

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
1:11
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- Jimmy Butler's mindset regarding his NBA career is the same one the Chicago Bulls have adopted as a whole under Tom Thibodeau.

They love the role of the underdog.

The Bulls thrive off the notion that people have counted them out. For Butler, it's a mantra that has defined his career. The first-round pick out of Marquette flew under the radar throughout much of his college career, but has emerged has a top-tier defender in Thibodeau's system. Despite the praise that has come his way from Thibodeau, and others, throughout the league, Butler's mindset hasn't changed. That was clear after Friday's shootaround when Butler was asked about his chances of getting some All-Defensive team votes.

"Maybe," he said. "I don't know. I don't think anybody knows who I am in this league still. I think I've still got a long way to go."

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SPONSORED HEADLINES

TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Derrick Rose
PTS AST STL MIN
15.9 4.3 0.5 31.1
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Noah 11.3
AssistsJ. Noah 5.4
StealsJ. Butler 1.9
BlocksJ. Noah 1.5