- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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DEERFIELD, Ill. -- The Chicago Bulls are one win (or one Miami Heat loss) from clinching the No. 1 playoff seed in the Eastern Conference, but no matter what happens over the next few days, Tom Thibodeau is not about to rest his players down the stretch.
He made that pretty clear after Monday morning's practice.
"When you look at what the starters have done, our guys up front, really no one's playing starter's minutes," Thibodeau said. "And they haven't all season. And then when you look at the backcourt guys, I think Derrick [Rose has] played 1,300 minutes this year. Rip [Hamilton] has played less. So from a minutes standpoint, everyone talks about Luol [Deng]. Luol's only played 2,000 minutes this season. So you have a well-rested team. You have to also keep in mind that we've played over 10 guys all season long, so that plays into it also. So if a guy needs rest, we're going to give him rest. The two things that are important at this point in the season are playing well and being healthy. So if someone were to need rest, we'd give him rest. But you're losing sight of all the guys that have missed the majority of the season."
While some coaches in the NBA have already made the decision to sit players in order to rest them for what figures to be a hectic postseason run, Thibodeau has no plans on doing that at the moment. Considering his starting group of Rose, Hamilton, Carlos Boozer, Deng and Joakim Noah has only played together 14 times all season, the veteran coach wants them to find some kind of rhythm before the postseason begins. He chafed at the notion that he should rest his players just because he could.
"If a guy needed rest, we would rest, but if a guy doesn't need rest, we won't," Thibodeau said. "It all depends on who you're talking about. We also have to be playing well, too, going in. So some guys who have been resting or been injured most of the season, maybe they need some minutes. Maybe a unit needs minutes. And you're also trying to get a look at playing small. Like we went with C.J. [Watson] and Derrick together. We may get a look at things like that, so you got to do both."
His players seem to be fine with that plan of attack.
"I'd rather play, to be honest, than rest," Deng said. "I think you've played all these games anyway throughout the whole season, it's just a rhythm thing. You want to go into the playoffs ... It's one day [in between games]. It's not like you've got four days or something, so it's going to start right away. It's just the season continuing really."
Noah doesn’t want to back off, either.
"One, we're trying to get home-court advantage, so that's pretty important," Noah said. "And secondly, we're in a situation right now where we've had injuries so we haven't had a lot of time to play together. So the more experience you have on the court, the better. I think we're a pretty healthy group right now, guys are getting back where they need to get to, we're fine. It's definitely going to be an exciting game against Indiana and we're hoping to clinch."
Thibodeau believes all the injury problems that guys like Noah and Boozer dealt with last season have actually helped the Bulls this time around.
"We went through a lot of injuries last year, so I think that helped us in terms of dealing with injuries this year and understanding all we have to do is do things that are necessary to win," he said. "So when one guy's out, the next guy steps in and he has to do his job. If he does his job, then chances are we're going to be successful."
By the numbers: Thanks to Ryan Feldman at ESPN Stats and Research, it's easier to understand why Thibodeau wants his core group to get as many minutes together as possible before the postseason.
When the starting five of Rose, Hamilton, Deng, Boozer and Noah are on the floor, the Bulls produce at a healthy clip:
That group shoots 46.2 from the field, 25.8 from the 3-point line, outscores opponents by 3.2 pts per 100 possessions, scores 8.8 more fast -reak points per 48 minutes than their opponents, and scores 3.1 more second-chance points per 48 minutes than their opponents. That group also averages 14.4 turnovers per 48 minutes.
What's interesting is that that group is actually the fifth most productive group the Bulls have put out on the floor this year in terms of scoring differential (or +/-) per 100 possessions.
In terms of scoring differential (or +/-) per 100 possessions, here are the Bulls’ best five-man lineups this season (minimum 100 minutes played):
Omer Asik/Deng/Taj Gibson/Kyle Korver/John Lucas: +33.3
Boozer/Ronnie Brewer/Deng/Noah/Rose: +17.4
If the minimum becomes 200 minutes played together, then the Boozer, Deng Hamilton, Noah and Rose group is the second best lineup behind the lineup of Boozer, Brewer, Deng, Noah and Rose.
Rose update: Rose went through most of Monday’s practice and Thibodeau was pleased with what he saw.
"He did most of practice, he said he's feeling great, so he's going to move from there," Thibodeau said.
The last word: Thibodeau, on the schedule starting to break for the Bulls:
"We got hit hard early with our games. Our April has been [easier]. We've had three two-day breaks and one three-day break. And so I like where we are in terms of the opportunity that we had to rest guys. And then we've had a number of guys that have missed a lot of games so when you look at total minutes for us, we have no one in the top 25 in total minutes. So it's good for us."
The Bulls players insist they don't need rest and would rather keep working.