- Nick Friedell, Chicago Bulls beat reporter
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NEW YORK -- Tom Thibodeau knew the question was coming.
Did seeing the bumps and bruises Ronnie Brewer and Joakim Noah took against the New York Knicks change his line of thinking at all, heading into the regular-season finale against an awful New Jersey Nets team?
"Bumps and bruises," Thibodeau said disgustedly. "I didn't see any of them. This is NBA, come on."
Thibodeau knows what a lot of fans out there want him to do. They want him to sit Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Noah, among others, so that they don't get injured heading into the playoffs. They don't want to take any risk because so much is dependent on the Bulls being healthy for what could be a long ride in the playoffs. Thibodeau doesn't care, though. He doesn't see it as a risk to send those players out on the floor after already clinching the No. 1 seed in the East. He doesn't see it as a risk to play Deng 44 minutes, as he did on Tuesday night. He doesn't see it as a risk because the Bulls are still chasing the San Antonio Spurs for the best record in the league. Most of all, he doesn't see it as a risk because he knows the pulse of his team better than anyone.
After driving them hard all season, he's not about to change his ways now.
Having said that, even Thibodeau admits that there is a fine line he is dealing with when it comes to playing or resting his players.
"I do think you have to strike that balance," he said after Tuesday night's game. "It comes down to two things. You want to be playing as well as possible and you want to be as healthy as possible. The decision becomes, do you have an older team? Do you have some guys who are nicked up? And if you do, you've got to rest those guys. If they're injured, you sit them. If you're an older team and you're not playing for anything, I think the wise thing to do is sit them in that situation. But if you're playing for something and guys are healthy, then I think you take the rhythm of playing your best going into the playoffs and you want to be as healthy as possible."
But will the Bulls be healthy if Thibodeau plays Rose, Noah and Deng so many minutes on Wednesday night?
Nobody knows the answer for sure, but there is no doubt there are plenty of Bulls fans who wish Thibodeau would err on the side of caution. When Noah came down on his already sprained right ankle, the city's collective heart must have sunk for a second. Plain and simple, the Bulls won't win it all without Noah on the floor and playing the way he did earlier in the year, so why risk it at all?
For his part, Noah didn't seem concerned about playing in one more regular-season game on Wednesday night.
"I'm just trying to give everything I can and we're just trying to focus on the next game," he said. "I feel like me personally, I'm just trying to go out there and give it everything I got. And I'm just trying to get my rhythm back. But it feels good that our team is so solid that we're playing very well and we can keep improving. But that's what we're going to need for the playoffs."
Rose had the same kind of attitude.
"I'm playing," he said, when asked if his mindset had changed at all. "I'm not worried about it. If anything, [I'll] get some rest right now, and hopefully [Wednesday] come out and be healthy."
Some wondered if Rose should have even played at all on Tuesday night because he was dealing with a head cold. When the topic of cutting Rose's minutes came up before Tuesday morning's shootaround, Thibodeau simply brushed it off. "The sniffles," he huffed.
After racking up 61 wins, it's hard to argue with anything Thibodeau is doing. After all, he knows his team better than anyone ... and somebody still has to play. But, if Thibodeau chooses to play Rose, Noah and Deng the same way against the Nets, and something were to happen to them, all the goodwill he has built over the season will be tossed out the window by a large group of fans who will wonder what they were doing out there in the first place.
Tom Thibodeau drove the Bulls hard all season, and that shouldn't change.