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Letting up a bit might be Bulls' best move

4/15/2014
A loss for Tom Thibodeau's Bulls against the Bobcats on Wednesday would allow them to avoid the Heat in the second round. Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

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]."

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.