Bulls in good shape for sprint of a season

December, 13, 2011
12/13/11
3:58
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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Tom ThibodeauJoe Murphy/NBAE/Getty ImagesTom Thibodeau likely will have to ease up a bit to keep his players fresh during their 66-game season.
CHICAGO -- Kyle Korver might have summed up the lockout-shortened 66-game schedule better than anyone last week.

"I was reading something on ESPN on how a shortened season is going to help or hurt teams, and no one is going to do well with this," he said. "Let's be honest, it's going to be a lot of games. There's not any days off. There's not a lot of practice time."

But Korver acknowledged that given the crazy pace of the NBA season, the Bulls may actually be in better shape to withstand the rigors of this sprint of a season.

"I think our team is going to have an advantage in how we practiced last year and how well we were drilled in everything," Korver said. "And just our philosophy and our rules and just how many guys we have coming back."

The Bulls' core is intact, and they know what to expect from Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. The only real additions are rookie Jimmy Butler and most likely Richard Hamilton (which should become official on Wednesday). Only Kurt Thomas, who signed with the Portland Trail Blazers, and probably Keith Bogans, are gone. Most teams don’t have that kind of stability.

With little opportunity to rest between games, staying healthy will be a tall order considering Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer missed a combined 57 games last season because of various injuries. In addition, Derrick Rose and Luol Deng were league leaders in minutes played.

[+] EnlargeNoah/Boozer
Dennis Wierzbicki/US PresswireKeeping Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, who combined to miss 57 games last season, on the floor figures to be a challenge during this condensed season.
Since every team is going through the same thing, Deng doesn’t see the use in criticizing the condensed slate of games.

"I really like our schedule," Deng said Sunday. "I don't really have the mindset to just start talking negative about the schedule. Everyone is going through it. I'm excited. I don't think it's a bad thing. It's definitely going to be some nights where you're going to feel it. But at the same time, the way we play, I think we'll be fine. Guys are going to bring the effort every night. It should be fine."

Privately, there are some within the organization already are conceding players will get hurt. Given the time frame and the pounding each player's body will take over the next few months, it's a near certainty that more injuries than normal will pile up. The players seem to be banking on Thibodeau easing off the gas pedal ever so slightly throughout the shortened season.

Instead of practicing on off days, as the Bulls did through most of last season, Korver believes Thibodeau will give them a chunk of days off, especially given that they play 17 sets of back-to-back games and one string of games in three straight nights. In place of some practice days, Korver also believes Thibodeau will turn to the video tape more than ever.

"[Thibodeau] always demands that you're there mentally," Korver said recently. "There is no exceptions. There are no days off. There's no relaxation. He was good last year. As tough as he is and as demanding as he is, we might be here for a long time, but three-fourths of it will be watching film or something like that where he's going to give our legs a break. He knows. He's been around the NBA for a long time."

Thibodeau is confident the Bulls will be able to make the transition to playing a game almost every other day. He's already been through one lockout shortened season in 1999-2000 as an assistant for the New York Knicks.

"Your concentration level has to be extremely high," Thibodeau said last week. "Because the one thing is when you're looking at a number of back-to-backs and things like that, your practice time is very limited, so you have to make the most of that time. It also affects your rest because now if you play a back-to-back, the next day you may look at as a practice day but maybe now you'll be taking that day off. But hopefully your players are in great shape."

Thibodeau would never admit this publicly, but he and the Bulls' staff know that the regular season probably doesn't mean as much as usual this season. Playoff seeding isn't as important as keeping your players as healthy as possible heading into the postseason. After all, it was Thibodeau's Knicks who snuck into the Eastern Conference playoffs in that 1999-00 season as an eighth seed and advanced all the way to the NBA Finals.

Thibodeau likely will lean on his bench more than ever this season. C.J. Watson, Korver, Ronnie Brewer, Omer Asik and Butler figure to see even more time early this season. The Bulls had one of the deepest benches in the league last year and there's no reason to think that will change now.

Given the circumstances, the Bulls figure to be ahead of their competition in a lot of areas, but only one thing is certain about this season.

"We're human not robots, so there will probably be sloppy games, I'm sure,” Korver said.

Nick Friedell | email

Chicago Bulls beat reporter
Nick Friedell is the Chicago Bulls beat reporter for ESPN Chicago. Friedell is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and joined ESPNChicago.com for its launch in April 2009.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Jimmy Butler
PTS AST STL MIN
21.6 3.4 1.5 40.1
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsP. Gasol 11.5
AssistsD. Rose 5.0
StealsJ. Butler 1.5
BlocksP. Gasol 2.0