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.
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."