Despite win, Bulls know they can be better

April, 15, 2012
4/15/12
10:27
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Kyle Korver felt the same way most Chicago Bulls' fans did late Sunday night.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Rose
AP Photo/Paul SancyaDerrick Rose and the Bulls are still working on polishing their play.
As the veteran sharpshooter slipped on his red and blue socks, he tried to process everything that just occurred late in his team's 100-94 overtime win over the Detroit Pistons, in which for the second game in a row the Bulls snatched a win from the jaws of defeat by making several key plays in the waning moments.

"I'm not sure how we won that game to be honest with you," Korver said. "I think it says a lot about [our team]. Every night it's someone else. C.J. [Watson] hits [the big shot] the other night, Derrick [Rose] hits it tonight, obviously. Lots of guys have hit big shots or made big plays for us. That says a lot about our team."

But, like his hard-charging coach, Tom Thibodeau, Korver is also a realist. He knows the Bulls have to start playing better, more consistent basketball in order to get ready for the playoff games that are quickly approaching at the end of the month.

"We don't want to keep putting ourselves in this position," Korver said. "Because the odds aren't really in your favor to keep pulling out the wins ... we're taking advantage of the opportunities given to us, but we've got to play a better 48-minute game."


Korver speaks the truth. For as well as the Bulls have played late in their past two games, and as happy as they should feel about the way they've able to earn victories lately, there are still red flags that go up.

Yes, Joakim Noah's performance was a great sign Sunday night. After struggling for the past few weeks to find a groove, the mercurial center had one of his best games of the year -- going off for 20 points and 17 rebounds, 13 of which were offensive, tying an NBA season high in that category. After struggling to find his shot on Thursday night, Rose came back with a vengeance Sunday, scoring 24 points and knocking down the most important shot of the night, a 3-pointer which sent the game into overtime. He's starting to look a little more like the reigning MVP of the league and he noted that he's "catching up," to the standard he set for himself.

Only good teams can play so poorly through big stretches and still find ways to pull out games like this. Only teams with heart can keep coming up with ways to to scratch out victories when players continually struggle with injuries, as the Bulls have throughout the year. But that's the point when it comes to evaluating where the Bulls sit with six regular season games left to play. On the surface, they look like a team that is in complete control. But for all the pundits who believe that Rose, Luol Deng, and Rip Hamilton, among others, should take it slow down the stretch, take a closer look at how Sunday's game unfolded.

The Bulls went through long stretches of ineffectiveness with the their starters and reserves on the floor. Problems like these can be fixed, but they can only be fixed when players play together on the floor in games, not at the Berto Center. Thibodeau understands this and that's why he will continue playing his roster the same way, albeit in shorter stretches, even after they lock up the No. 1 seed probably later in the week. Despite all the success they've had this season, the Bulls are collectively rusty because of all the injuries they've endured and the players know it.

"We struggled most of the game and then in the end found a way to win it," Thibodeau said. "I thought Joakim was unbelievable with his activity, offensive rebounding, Derrick [hit a] huge shot. We were like a step behind on everything, but I thought the defense was pretty good."

The Bulls have been able to salvage wins because of the system Thibodeau has placed them in this year, but at some point soon the system alone won't be able to keep the momentum going. Talent must win in the playoffs and that's why the players are fine with the fact that Thibodeau will continue to play them down the final stretch of the regular season.

"We're coming along good," Rose said. "Where we're kind of rusty a little bit, but we're trying to smooth out everything, the wrinkles. Passing the ball, that's for one thing, the passes where guys are, throwing the ball where guys are, where they should go. Just giving it to them in the right place so they can make the right play."

The Bulls may very well have enough to win a title this season, but they need more time than most to oil up for the rough ride that comes every spring in the postseason. They need to work out all of those kinks and even in victory they aren't afraid to acknowledge that.

"I think we're getting better, I don't think we're there yet but I think we're getting better," Korver said. "We're going to need these last few games. A lot of teams are probably going to start resting some guys once their positions are locked in and I don't think that will really happen with us. Maybe a little bit, but I think just because we've had so many guys out this year we kind of need these last few games."

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
20.9 3.3 1.5 39.6
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsP. Gasol 11.9
AssistsD. Rose 5.1
StealsJ. Butler 1.5
BlocksP. Gasol 1.9