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Saturday, April 5, 2014
Bulls believe they can beat any team

By Nick Friedell

WASHINGTON -- The confidence that permeated the Chicago Bulls' locker room after a decisive 96-78 win over the Washington Wizards on Saturday night was palpable in every corner.

The Bulls' performance didn't just reaffirm they are one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference, it has reinforced the quiet confidence the Bulls have displayed for the past few weeks.

Coach Tom Thibodeau and his players believe they can beat any team in the league.

Joakim Noah, Trevor Ariza, Trevor Booker
Joakim Noah says the Bulls are at their best when rebounding and playing good defense: "That's the way we want to play, and there's no better feeling than winning ballgames."
They don't care which team they are playing and what the circumstances are. The Bulls believe that when they play their style of basketball -- tough, hard-nosed defense and timely offense -- they can knock off any team that stands in their way. With just a week and a half before the playoffs begin, that belief is stronger than ever.

"This is how we are," Bulls point guard D.J. Augustin said after pouring in 25 points. "We're a tough group of guys. No matter who's out on the court, no matter who we have playing, who's in uniform, we just go out there and play hard, no matter what. That's the kind of mindset we have. We feel like we can beat any team in the NBA."

Augustin's ability to breathe life into the Bulls' offense continues to be one of the most important storylines of the season, but it's Thibodeau's defense that remains this group's calling card. The Bulls controlled this game from beginning to end. Aside from a portion of the third quarter in which the Wizards showed signs of offensive life, the Bulls' defense suffocated a team that had given it trouble earlier in the season.

"We can really dominate teams at times," Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. "Especially just with our defense alone. I think that our defense was great. We were smothering them on all cylinders. … They were pissed. They were taking shots they normally didn't want to take."

The Bulls have the kind of defensive ability that overwhelms teams. They can impose their will on an opponent and break the spirit of different players. That's what they're going to have to lean on as the playoffs hit, and they know it.

"I think defense is a collective thing," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "It's all of us just being on the same page, moving on a string, believing that everybody's going to make the right rotations, playing with the right edge."

The Bulls are playing with the type of defensive edge that makes Thibodeau happiest. He knows the Bulls can't beat teams in a seven-game series if they're relying on a shaky offense -- that's why the defensive principles and continuity are so important.

"When you play good defense, and we're rebounding, and we're winning -- that's our style of play," Noah said. "That's the way we want to play, and there's no better feeling than winning ballgames."

For the Bulls, there's no better feeling than knowing if they do what they're supposed to do -- they can beat teams whenever they desire. The question of whether they can beat elite-level teams over the course of a seven-game series will be answered in due time, but the confidence coming from this group right now is unmistakable.

While Thibodeau wouldn't come right out and say it, he says he believes what his players can do: If they play defense the way they did Saturday night and work the ball inside out, there isn't a team that can beat them.

"I think we have a good understanding of what goes into winning," Thibodeau said. "And we know if we defend and we rebound and we keep our turnovers down, we're going to be in position. And then, if we play inside out and we share it, we're capable of beating anyone, anywhere.

"But there's a lot that goes into it, and you got to be willing to do that night after night. And you have to make the commitment to the team. And you have to put everything you have into each and every day. And when you do that, it's amazing what can happen."