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Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Thibodeau pushes to finish line

By Doug Padilla

Nazr Mohammed, Carlos Boozer
The Bulls didn't take their foot off the gas in the regular season finale Wednesday.
CHICAGO -- There was no rest for the weary Wednesday night as Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau elected to use nearly all the players available to him in a 95-92 victory over the Washington Wizards in the season finale.

Thibodeau has been known for giving extended minutes to his core players, with Luol Deng heading into the season finale as the leader in the NBA in minutes played per game at 38.9. Joakim Noah was 15th with 37.1 minutes per game played.

Around the league, though, coaches were using the final game of the season as an opportunity for their core players to get a break.

In the Atlanta Hawks-New York Knicks game, which directly affected the Bulls' playoff seeding, essentially all the core players were given the night off. The Knicks sat Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith, among others, while the Hawks sat Al Horford, Josh Smith, Kyle Korver, Jeff Teague and Devin Harris.

"We're going to see where we are," Thibodeau said before the game. "We want to be sharp, and I also want to get a look at guys. But we're going to play to win."

Top players around the league who did not see action Wednesday included LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat and Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Not all key veterans rested, though, as the Dallas Mavericks' Dirk Nowitzki and the San Antonio Spurs' Tim Duncan each played over 25 minutes.

Thibodeau did have incentive to get many of his players minutes as guys like Noah, Taj Gibson, Marco Belinelli and Richard Hamilton have all been trying to get their legs under them after missing time with various injuries.

Noah, who was playing in just his third game since March 21, played 15 minutes Wednesday, which still presented a risk since the All-Star has been dealing with a painful plantar fasciitis issue in his right foot. Deng played 27 minutes, while Carlos Boozer played 37 and Jimmy Butler logged 43.

Derrick Rose and Vladimir Radmanovic were not active for the game. The only available Bulls players who did not see action were little-used reserves Daequan Cook, Marquis Teague and Malcolm Thomas.

Thibodeau said he was using Wednesday's game as an indicator of how he wants to line up his player rotation for the opening playoff games against the Brooklyn Nets.

"We'll sort it out as we move forward," Thibodeau said. "I still want to see how guys are moving out there. And then we have to see where we are minutes-wise with people and then also look at the matchups, who we're going against and how we match up."

At the very least, by playing everybody available, the Bulls weren't mentioned in the debate about the integrity of the game. Questions were raised Wednesday about the number of watered-down games around the league.

"I think there's a certain obligation (to play)," Thibodeau said. "I don't know if (the fans) feel cheated. But I think you want to do what's right, and some guys do need (playing time) and that's the right thing to do. I also think you have to respect the game. Maybe you're not playing as many minutes as you normally would, but I do think if you can play you should play.

"That's one of the areas I do have great respect for (Michael) Jordan, because he always did that, whether it was preseason, the end of a season. He may not have played the same amount of minutes, but he played some. That's important for the game, for the league. But some guys do need rest and if a guy needs rest then that's what should be done also. There's two sides to that, but you try and do what's right."