Chicago Bulls: Tom Thibodeau

Bulls trying to slow down Wall

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
9:25
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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DEERFIELD, Ill. -- Tom Thibodeau doesn't want to see Washington Wizards guard John Wall racing up and down the floor over the next couple of weeks. He wants Wall's speed to be controlled -- the Wizards' transition game to be neutralized. In order to do that, Thibodeau and his players know that they must do something that few teams have been able to do this season: Slow down Wall in the open floor.

[+] EnlargeJohn Wall, Kirk Hinrich
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsTom Thibodeau will lean on veteran guard Kirk Hinrich to stay in front of John Wall.
"It’s unique," Thibodeau said, when asked how to prepare for Wall's speed. "You have to be ready. Your offense is a big part of it -- having floor balance, being committed. Every aspect of your defense has to be five guys tied together. You’re not going to slow him one-on-one. We need five guys sprinting back, making him play in a crowd. He still has the ability to make good plays. His speed is terrific. Makes and misses, they push it hard. We have to be ready for that."

That means that Kirk Hinrich is going to be charged with setting a defensive tone in this series. The veteran guard, who played with Wall in his rookie season, is going to be the man Thibodeau leans on to stay in front of the All-Star guard. It's a challenge that Hinrich believes he and his teammates will be ready for.

"We have to be good as a team in transition," Hinrich said. "You have to get guys back and form a wall and [be] low to the ball and try to slow him down. It's easier to talk about it than do it."

Forming a wall to beat Wall will be a focal point of Thibodeau's defensive plan in this series.

Confidence is solid: The Bulls are not feeling cocky as they head into Game 1 Sunday night, but they do feel confident. They aren't making any grandiose predictions about how far they'll go in the postseason, but they do believe that if they play together that it will be tough for any team to beat them.

"It’s one game at a time, one play at a time," Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. "We feel that we have an opportunity to do something special. We believe in the locker room, we believe in going far, but it’ll all come down to one play at a time, really. In the playoffs, everything gets really shrunk down to how hard guys play, knowing the play calls and aggression. It’s a lot of heart. That’s the main thing. Without those things, you’re really going to have a rough night."

The last word: Thibodeau isn't buying into the notion that the Wizards don't have much playoff experience. While they haven't been to the playoffs in several years as a group, he did note that many guys have played in important games before.

"I think they have a lot of experience also. When you’re young like Wall and [Bradley] Beal, they have college experience where they played in big pressure games. The rest of their team is experienced. [Marcin] Gortat has been around and been in a lot of big games. Andre Miller has been in a lot of big games. They have a number of guys -- Al Harrington is another -- that have been in big games. That team is well put together. They’ve got a good blend of young and old. You can’t overlook the importance of having veterans on your team. They’ve done that. When you look at their second unit, and it’s Andre Miller, a [Martell] Webster, a Harrington, a Nene -- those guys can start for a lot of teams."

3 Points: Sizing up the Bulls-Wizards series

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
1:09
PM CT
By Staff
ESPNChicago.com
Bulls/WizardsAP Photo/Nam Y. HuhJohn Wall averaged 19.3 points and 8.8 assists during the regular season, including 20.7 points in three games against the Bulls.
Every week, Nick Friedell is joined by two other ESPN writers to weigh in on three questions that are on the minds of Chicago Bulls followers.

1. What about the Wizards should concern the Bulls?


Friedell: How will the Bulls be able to contain John Wall and will Tom Thibodeau be willing to use Kirk Hinrich more than his customary 25-30 minutes a night? Nene and Marcin Gortat have given the Bulls problems in the past. They can score and they know how to play on the blocks. It's going to be up to Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson to limit each player in what will be a physical matchup.

Jon Greenberg, ESPNChicago.com columnist: I'll be Captain Obvious and say Wall. In going 2-1 against the Bulls this season, Wall averaged 20 points (shooting 50 percent from the field) and eight assists. With time to prepare, the Bulls will have a solid game plan to limit his penetration, swarming him off pick-and-rolls and disrupting his flow. No one preps better than Thibodeau, and his players listen with religious fervor. But Wall is finally realizing his potential as an All-Star-caliber player, and you can't always corral talent. Another area of concern is where the Bulls are the strongest. Chicago tends to have an advantage over most teams down low when Noah and Gibson are paired together. But with bruisers Nene and Marcin Gortat, the Wizards will give the Bulls' dynamic duo some trouble.

Scoop Jackson, ESPN.com columnist: Their ability to shut teams down defensively, and the Wizards aren't the greatest offensive team in the league. The Wizards finished 10th in the NBA in field goal percentage, and the Bulls were the second-best team (behind the Pacers) in opponents field goal percentage. Usually, especially with a team like the Bulls, when the playoffs begin, defenses have a deeper impact in games. It takes most offenses a few games to get adjusted and going, and I think that's going to be the situation with the Wizards. They have six players (including Webster at 9.7 points a game) who average double digits. In this series against the Bulls, not only are all six of those players going to have problems reaching their averages, but collectively there probably won't be one game when all six score in double figures. And that eventually will be their downfall.


2. What's the most intriguing matchup between the Bulls and Wizards?


Friedell: I'm curious to see what unfolds between Jimmy Butler and Bradley Beal. Both players are young, talented and they want to make a bigger name for themselves. They will be going after each other every game, and it should be fun to watch.

[+] EnlargeBradley Beal
AP Photo/Jason DeCrowGuarding Bradley Beal, who averaged 17.1 points this season, will be a tough assignment for Jimmy Butler.
Greenberg: Hinrich vs. Wall will be interesting. While their styles are, um, different, Hinrich had a hand mentoring Wall in his rookie season, and now the student must beat the master to become a true ... Ah, just kidding. Seriously, though, Hinrich has had a great season, because he hasn't had to exert himself every game thanks to the addition of D.J. Augustin. Hinrich is averaging 29 minutes a game and has been bulldoggy on defense. While the Bulls truly play a team defense, Hinrich will be responsible for disrupting Wall's flow. Butler against Beal will be another individual matchup to watch. Here's another question: How will the Wizards defend the Noah point-center offense?

Jackson: Beal and whoever is guarding him from game to game. Between Butler, Tony Snell and Ronnie Brewer -- Hinrich is going to have his hands full with Wall -- Beal is going to have the Sybil of matchup problems. The Bulls are going to show him so many different looks with so many different players in front of him, it's going to be a thing of beauty either watching them confuse the hell out of him or him figuring it out and dropping 20-plus every game.


3. Who wins the series and why?


Friedell: The Bulls in six. They are playoff-tested. They want to prove this season hasn't been a waste, and they are confident. On top of all that, they are as healthy as they've been in Thibodeau's tenure heading into a playoffs -- aside from Derrick Rose of course. The Bulls just have too much talent, too much experience and too much defensive prowess in the end.

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Greenberg: Call me a homer, but I'm saying the Bulls in six. They haven't lost consecutive games since Feb. 1-3, so I don't see that streak ending so soon. But the Wizards will still win at least a game, and I'm guessing two. I don't think the Bulls will steamroll Washington in their wins either. This will be a fun series to watch, but I think the Bulls are well-conditioned and mentally ready to advance in the playoffs.

Jackson: The Bulls. They are just, excuse me, have just shown themselves to be, a better team than the Wizards over the course of this season. On the real tip though, we are going to find out in this series if the Wizards have any fight in them. We know the Bulls do, and eventually that's going to be the factor that wins it for the Bulls. But if the Wizards show that they have the will to not wanna lose, to win a few games in this series that they aren't supposed to win, then next year -- with the help of signing one midlevel vet in the offseason -- seeing them in the playoffs will be a problem.

Thibs plays with fire, Bulls still good

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
11:50
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Tom Thibodeau had a simple message for his team before it played in Wednesday night's game against the Charlotte Bobcats.

"Before the game, he was like, 'Be prepared to win,'" Bulls guard Jimmy Butler said.

[+] EnlargeTom Thibodeau
Sam Sharpe/USA TODAY SportsTom Thibodeau didn't let up on the intensity in the Bulls' regular-season finale, but that's no surprise.
Thibodeau didn't care about the fact it was the 82nd game of the regular season. He didn't care that the Bulls would be best served to land in the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff seedings and would avoid a possible second-round matchup with the Miami Heat. He didn't care that Butler had piled up plenty of minutes over the course of a long NBA season -- Thibodeau did not want to change the way he prepared his team to play at all.

"He told that to everybody," Butler said of the message. "He played guys -- he wanted to win the game. All those minutes, I think it was worth it. But, obviously, we didn't pull it out. We didn't win."

Butler sat in front of his locker stall with the same tired look on his face he usually has after games as he said this. The Bulls didn't beat the Bobcats, but Thibodeau's message was clear: The Bulls play to win every game. It is a belief that has defined him in his career and one he's not going to turn his back on now. The veteran coach knows he'll be criticized for his decisions, but he doesn't care. He doesn't care what fans think, he doesn't care what the media thinks, he doesn't care what some people in the organization think -- all Thibodeau cares about is doing what he thinks is best for his team at that given moment.

"I just didn't think we needed to do that," Thibodeau said when asked why he chose not to rest guys. "I think D.J. [Augustin] missed a game, so I think it was important for him to get minutes. Once you start resting guys, sometimes they get out of rhythm, and for us right now, I think our team is well rested. We've been concerned with rest for a while, and we've given our guys a lot of days off. So from the rest standpoint, I think we're in great shape. You want the rhythm, you want to be playing well, you got to be sharp."

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Rapid Reaction: Bobcats 91, Bulls 86 (OT)

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
8:47
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Let's take a quick look at how the Charlotte Bobcats earned a 91-86 overtime win over the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday night at the Time Warner Cable Arena in the regular-season finale.

How it happened: Kemba Walker had 22 points, eight assists and seven rebounds, and Chris Douglas-Roberts chipped in 13 points. Joakim Noah once again paced the Bulls to the tune of 14 points, 13 rebounds and six assists, and Carlos Boozer had 14 points and 11 rebounds, but the Bulls came up short in what could end up being a meaningless game as far playoffs seedings go if the Toronto Raptors beat the New York Knicks and lock the Bulls in at the No. 4 seed in the East.

What it means: Tom Thibodeau is a creature of habit and principle. He plays to win every game -- even if it ends up not mattering in the standings. Those beliefs were on full display Wednesday night. Thibodeau could have decided to rest his players down the stretch in this one and play for seeding, but he decided to send a message to his players that they had to play hard until the end. But the veteran coach was absolutely playing with fire in this game -- if somebody got injured or if the Bulls won and then the Raptors lost and the Bulls ended up with the No. 3 seed with the potential of facing the Miami Heat in the second round -- Thibodeau would have gotten crushed. Here's the key, though: He doesn't care what anyone thinks. He's going to pace his team the way he wants and he's going to do things his way until the end. For better or worse, he proved that again Wednesday.

Hits: Mike Dunleavy chipped in with 12 points, seven rebounds and three assists in 41 minutes.

Misses: Taj Gibson was 2-for-10 from the field.

Stats of the night: The Bobcats out-rebounded the Bulls 53-44 and outscored them 42-28 in the paint. Jimmy Butler played 48 minutes. Noah played 42 minutes.

What's next: The Bulls' playoff opponent is still to be determined. They host Game 1 at the United Center on Sunday night at 6 CT.

Thibs: Bulls' plan the same vs. Bobcats

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
11:51
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau doesn't want to change his team's routine as it gets set for the regular-season finale Wednesday night against the Charlotte Bobcats.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Butler
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsJimmy Butler isn't concerned with whom the Bulls will play in the first round.
The Bulls' playoff seeding is still up in the air -- they could end up as the 3-seed if they win and the New York Knicks beat the Toronto Raptors -- but Thibodeau said he isn't concerned about playing for a seed as much as he wants to keep his team in a good rhythm before the playoffs begin.

"We're not changing," he said. "So we got our normal rotation we're going to play. We're playing to win. When you look at where our guys are minutes-wise, total minutes-wise, health-wise, that's what we should do."

The ideal scenario for the Bulls if they lose to the Bobcats: The Washington Wizards beat the Boston Celtics and the Brooklyn Nets lose to the Cleveland Cavaliers. That would mean the Bulls would lock themselves into the No. 4 seed and would face the Wizards in the first round.

The Wizards were 2-1 against the Bulls in the regular season, but the Nets have a veteran-laden team that took the Bulls to seven games last season. The Wizards are a young, untested team in the playoffs.

In the long term, it would set up a potential second-round matchup between the winner of the Indiana Pacers-Atlanta Hawks series. This is important because it would mean the Bulls would avoid a potential showdown with the Miami Heat until the conference finals, assuming they were to advance.

No matter which team the Bulls face, their confidence doesn't seem to have wavered much.

"It really don't matter who we play," Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler said. "We think we can beat anybody, so whoever we match up against, we're going to take that matchup and try to get through them."

Thibodeau admitted he can't remember a season-ending day that has had this much intrigue.

"It seems like it's a lot," he said. "I think it's good for the league with so many things up for grabs so it makes it interesting."

Letting up a bit might be Bulls' best move

April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
7:26
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
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ThibodeauNuccio DiNuzzo/Getty ImagesA loss for Tom Thibodeau's Bulls against the Bobcats on Wednesday would allow them to avoid the Heat in the second round.
CHARLOTTE -- Taj Gibson had to laugh at the thought.

When the topic of Tom Thibodeau resting players came up after Monday night's win over the Orlando Magic, the Chicago Bulls forward looked around at the small circle of media members surrounding him and chuckled.

"You guys have been around for a minute now," Gibson said. "You guys should know that guy in the other room over there, he's never going to tell anybody to take any rest. He's old school, he doesn't believe in that. He just believes in pushing [forward]."

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But Thibodeau always believes in doing what's best for his team no matter the situation. That's why I'd be very surprised if he approached Wednesday's game against the Charlotte Bobcats like the other 81 regular season games the Bulls have played this season. The reality for the Bulls is that while they would take the third seed in the Eastern Conference playoff seedings, they are content at the four spot.

That's because it would push a potential matchup with the Miami Heat until the Eastern Conference finals. Thibodeau and his players would never say it publicly because they do respect teams like the Brooklyn Nets and the Indiana Pacers, but they believe they can beat them. They believe they would prevail in a seven-game series against either of those teams.

Predictably, Gibson tried to brush off talk about a potential second-round matchup with the Pacers, instead of the Heat.

"We really can't look forward to the future," he said. "You've got to look at who's in front of you. Because any kind of little thing teams can feed off of, they'll use it against you. We don't want to give anybody any kind of extra confidence, any kind of extra juices. We're just focused on ourselves, just getting ready to play some tough-nosed, (rugged) basketball. We understand the stakes. We understand what it's about."

That is a Thibodeau-approved response. No matter which team the Bulls end up with, their style of play won't change. They want to break the other's team's will defensively. But that doesn't mean that Thibodeau hasn't charted a path for his team to go as far as it can.

The Bulls would be playing with fire by ending up with an improved Nets team, but the prize would be to likely a second-round matchup with an Indiana team that has gone 10-13 since March 1.

In the short-term, Thibodeau would be able to give key contributors such as Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler and Gibson a few extra minutes off while a tough Bobcats team continues to scrap for a better seed of its own.

Thibodeau has always talked about respecting the game and finding ways to succeed in various circumstances. But the best play for the Bulls may be to ease up a bit on their best players for one night.

Bulls still believe they can win a title

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
11:20
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
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CHICAGO -- Joakim Noah and his teammates have a clear goal as they get set to start what they hope will be a long trek through the postseason. It might surprise people around the league given how up and down the Chicago Bulls' season has been, but it's an unwavering desire that permeates the locker room.

Noah and his teammates still believe they can win a championship this season.

"We believe," Noah said after Monday's 108-95 victory over the Orlando Magic. "We believe. Whoever we play, we're going to be a tough out. We're hungry. We want this. We believe in one another. We believe in our system. And we're just taking it day by day -- it's about taking it one game at a time. [Tuesday] it's about getting ready for Charlotte [in Wednesday's regular-season finale], and then when the playoffs come it's one at a time."

Noah, the emotional heart and soul of this team, doesn't say this in a boastful way. He shares this sentiment because he believes it. He feels this way because coach Tom Thibodeau exudes that confidence within the locker room. Thibodeau would never say it the same way -- but he believes it, too. Both men are unified in their belief that the Bulls, when they're playing together on both ends of the floor, have the ability to knock off anybody.

"We understand all the negativity that's been said our way," Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. "And we're just focused on doing our job."

That's what makes the pairing of Noah and Thibodeau so intriguing as the Bulls prepare themselves for the next stage of the season. The two prideful men thrive off that negativity. They love when people count them out, and they trust in the work they have put in over the season. They walk into each contest knowing that nobody will pour more emotion into it than them -- and that feeling is what makes the Bulls so united.

[+] EnlargeJoakim Noah
Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images"We're hungry," Joakim Noah said about his Bulls after Monday's victory. "We want this. We believe in one another."
That's also why Gibson had to laugh when the idea was suggested that Thibodeau might rest some of his players in the final days, as the Miami Heat did Monday night.

"You guys have been around for a minute now," Gibson said. "You guys should know that guy in the other room over there, he's never going to tell anybody to take any rest. He's old-school, he doesn't believe in that. He just believes in pushing [forward].

"Like he said, the finish line is ahead. You got to just run through it, you can't slow up, you can't try to trot through, just full steam ahead through it. And whatever happens, happens. Like he told us, you're going to walk through the fire together -- as a team, as a unit, nobody's going to take that from you. We've got to just keep walking through it. Don't stop for nothing."

That's the mantra the Bulls have been using all year. That's why they truly aren't concerned with how the seeds shake out. They don't seem to care all that much who they'll face in the playoffs. They just want to prove to everybody that they can win when it counts. They are hell-bent on showing everyone that this season will be remembered for a long time, despite the fact that they don't have the type of elite talent that usually separates teams in the postseason.

"Whatever happens, happens," Noah said. "Our mentality is just getting ready for the next game. Getting ready for Charlotte. From there, that's when you worry about the seedings. So we've got one more game, we're not going to try and worry about what's going to happen in the playoffs. What's happening next -- just focus on our next opponent and everything will take care of itself."

Bulls lose 'edge'; end result may not be bad

April, 13, 2014
Apr 13
11:57
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Friedell By Nick Friedell
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NEW YORK -- The Chicago Bulls have been “playing with fire” over the past week because of a lack of defensive intensity that creeps up on them at various points in games.

On Sunday night against the lowly New York Knicks, they got burned.

Tom Thibodeau's team played without the edge that has come to define it. The Bulls did not execute the defensive schemes properly and did not take care of the ball.

[+] EnlargeD.J. Augustin
AP Photo/Seth WenigD.J. Augustin and the Bulls fell flat Sunday in New York. But if the defeat ultimately means they don't have to face the Heat as a second-round opponent, that would soften the blow.
For a team that prides itself on attention to detail, it was an odd time to have that type of performance.

After it was over, Thibodeau and his players talked more about their mental preparation than they did about what happened on the floor.

“I think it was more our mindset," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "Our mindset wasn’t really good. It should have been better. We had a golden opportunity. We let a big game slip. It was probably the biggest game of the season. Disappointing. Our mentality wasn’t good. But overall we just don’t have time to … we just got to let this one go and get ready for [Monday]."

Thibodeau echoed those sentiments, although it's worth noting that he wasn't as angry as he usually is after losses.

"Re-establish the mental part of the game," he said. "The ball pressure has to be great. We can't fall behind and think we're going to make a big rally to come back and win it. You're playing with fire when you do that, so it's important for us to start quickly, be ready for the beginning of the game, be into the ball.

"Right now we've got to play for 48 minutes and we're not doing that."

The Bulls are having problems with their consistency at the wrong time in the season. They are finding ways to win games -- a fact that is lost on nobody within the locker room -- but they are going through too many stretches when the defense goes missing, or the offense can't find its rhythm.

They know over the next week they must find ways to tighten up those mistakes, because those errors in judgment become even more prominent on the playoff stage.

"We’ll be all right, but this is the time of the year that it’s OK to be critical," Noah said, "We’re trying to be the best that we can be. A team that’s playing for nothing ... we’re playing for something big and we didn’t have the right mindset [Sunday night].

"Overall, I feel like we had a shot, we fought hard at the end, shots didn’t go down. But for 48 minutes we didn’t play with the edge that we’re supposed to in a game this important."

The truth for Noah and his teammates is that Sunday's win could serve as a blessing in disguise depending on how the final playoff seedings shake out.

As of now, the Bulls are the 4-seed in the Eastern Conference and would have a first-round rematch against the Brooklyn Nets. While the Bulls would rather not face an improving Nets team, they still believe they can beat them.

Assuming the rest of the seeds hold and the Bulls can get past a veteran-laden Nets team, that would likely mean a second-round matchup against the Indiana Pacers, not the Miami Heat.

The Pacers picked up a big win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday, but that isn't going to change the Bulls' mindset in any way. They've always believed they could beat the Pacers -- even before they struggled to win games late in the season.

The only team that remains in the Bulls' collective head is the Heat, the team that's knocked them out of the playoffs in two of the past three seasons.

If the Bulls play like they did Sunday night, they won't have to worry about playing the Heat because they won't get to the conference finals.

However, Sunday's loss did not leave this proud team down in the dumps. They know they can play better and they trust that they will when the bright lights come on. If they can get through the first round and avoid Miami in the second, a loss to the Knicks late in the year will be viewed more as a positive than a negative.

"Games like this are going to happen," Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. "We feel like we were lackadaisical at times, but it's going to happen. It's a long season. We can't complain about what we did tonight. We just got to bounce back, sharpen up.

"Playoffs are around the corner. You don't know who we're going to play, which seed is which; we just got to stay optimistic."

Noah's emotion a catalyst, if kept in check

April, 12, 2014
Apr 12
9:07
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
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NEW YORK -- The questions are as predictable as Joakim Noah's effort on a night-to-night basis. They are issued every evening. And the answers are similar, if not identical.

When the media congregates around an opposing coach a couple of hours before tipoff, Noah's game and his emotional investment into his team are the focal point of any conversation.

Coaches who have to prepare for Noah heap praise upon him. Like Derrick Rose before him, the Chicago Bulls' center has become the player whom coaches love to talk about -- and field the most questions about.

[+] EnlargeJoakim Noah
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images"I am an emotional player," said Bulls center and team leader Joakim Noah. "Sometimes it backfires on me. I think that's just part of the process."
In all the ways that Noah has taken the mantle as the face of the Bulls' franchise this season, this particular formality may be the most telling. The emotional 29-year-old is at the center of every discussion.

"It's a skill to play as hard as he does," Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer said before a game recently.

"He's just gotten better in every area since he's been in the league," Minnesota Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman said before a contest earlier this week.

Noah plays with the type of passion that coaches throughout the league wish all their players exuded nightly. His fire -- and his desire to win -- fuels the rest of his teammates.

But with the emotion come the occasional struggles, Noah admits.

And it’s that excitement he must keep in check on Sunday night as he leads his team into the biggest game of its season against the team he grew up cheering for in the New York Knicks.

"All the time," Noah said recently of working on trying to keep those emotions balanced. "All the time. I am an emotional player. Sometimes it backfires on me. I think that's just part of the process.

“I just have to do a better job of keeping my emotions in check, sometimes knowing when to let them out and knowing when to stay calm, keep my cool, especially in pressure situations."

Fortunately, Noah has been able to do that throughout much of the season. Along with the brilliance of Tom Thibodeau's defensive schemes, Noah’s work is the single biggest reason why the Bulls are on the verge of locking up the third seed in the Eastern Conference -- should they win their last three games. It would be feat that seemed absurd just a few short months ago when Rose went down with another season-ending knee injury and Luol Deng was traded to Cleveland.

Noah's presence in the locker room and ability to take on more of a mentoring role with his teammates are just as important as the threat he could go off for a triple-double every time he sets foot on the floor.

To be sure, Noah is playing the best basketball of his career right now. But it is Noah’s ability to lead that is the reason why Thibodeau speaks with his own high praise any time his center’s name is brought up.

"When you talk about leadership -- OK, what is leadership?" Thibodeau said after Wednesday's win over the Timberwolves. "Well, it's more by what you do than what you say. I think when you make great effort, great hustle plays, those things unite and inspire your team. And that's what makes him who he is and that's why he's so good."

There's more, though. Much more, in Thibodeau's eyes.

The veteran coach respects the way Noah works because he knows the time and effort he's poured into his game. The work ethic that has been the bedrock of Thibodeau's tenure in Chicago is what continues to push Noah.

"But he's never satisfied," Thibodeau continued. "He's a very talented guy; to try and say that he's not talented, you're selling him short. He's very talented. He's very smart. He's very driven.

"So when you combine those things, those types of guys always improve. And so I think he's gotten real comfortable. He knows his teammates well; he knows their strengths. He knows the league well. He knows how to take advantage of things."

Noah also knows that as the Bulls begin their stretch drive into the postseason, he must continue to toe the line between being passionate and going overboard with his emotions. It's a balancing act that will be crucial for the Bulls over the next few weeks -- and he knows it.

The proud big man has consistently brushed off the talk that he's done more on and off the floor because of Rose's injury. The reality for the Bulls is that he's done more of everything, in every area.

Noah won't admit it, but he is emboldened by the confidence those around him have shown in him. His confidence has grown because of their faith in him.

"I think my teammates have confidence in me," he said. "My coach has confidence in me. I'm just trying to make plays for my teammates. And I know their tendencies pretty well, knowing where they want the ball, knowing what their strengths are."

The emotion Noah continues to show is one of the Bulls' biggest strengths. He's just got to make sure as the final week of the season arrives that it doesn't turn into a weakness.

Bulls 'ignited' by Gibson's 4th-quarter fire

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
11:32
PM CT
Powers By Scott Powers
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video

CHICAGO -- Chicago Bulls forward Taj Gibson took a moment to evaluate his game against the Detroit Pistons through three quarters on Friday and didn’t like what he saw.

Gibson had six points on 3-of-6 shooting, zero rebounds and zero blocks. The Bulls were down by 10 points, and Gibson’s play was part of the problem.

The Bulls lacked their usual energy, and that was apparent by the fact Pistons center Andre Drummond had 22 rebounds, just two fewer than the Bulls, after three quarters.

Gibson went out looking to upgrade his game in the final 12 minutes, and that led to the Bulls’ game being upped, too. He scored 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting, grabbed four rebounds, including three on offense, and blocked three shots in the fourth quarter. His efforts excited the crowd and sparked the Bulls to a 106-98 comeback win at the United Center.

[+] EnlargeTaj Gibson, Jonas Jerebko
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesTaj Gibson made the final stanza his show Friday against the Pistons: The Bulls forward scored 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting, grabbed four rebounds, including three on offense, and blocked three shots.
The Bulls overcame an 18-point halftime deficit, marking their largest come-from-behind win of the season. And in doing so, they capitalized on a Toronto Raptors’ loss and moved into sole possession of third place in the Eastern Conference.

The Bulls’ comeback began in the third quarter, as they cut the Pistons’ lead to 10 point. But it was Gibson who propelled the Bulls with a series of energy plays in the fourth quarter.

With the Bulls down 83-77, Gibson rejected a jumper by Kyle Singler in the lane. D.J. Augustin scored at the other end and the Bulls were down four. Two Pistons’ possessions later, Jonas Jerebko had his shot swatted by Gibson.

Gibson later pushed the Bulls ahead 88-83 when he scored at the rim while being fouled, then converted his free throw. On the Bulls’ next possession, he hustled to a loose ball, just beating Jerebko to it, and knocked it out with one hand to the top of the key for the Bulls to retrieve it.

To cap it off, Gibson grabbed an offensive rebound off a Joakim Noah miss, then got another offensive rebound off another Noah miss and threw down a two-handed dunk to put the Bulls ahead 92-86 and forcing the Pistons into a timeout.

“When you make effort plays like that, and those were big-time, multiple-effort plays -- block shots, offensive rebounding in traffic, finishing -- that does nothing but inspire your team,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “That sort of ignited us.”

Gibson’s intention in the fourth quarter was to find simpler ways to produce.

“I just tried to attack the basket,” Gibson said. “Sometime when your layup or jump shot doesn’t work, you got to try to attack the basket. I just tried to make plays on the ball, especially rebounding. I didn’t have a strong rebounding night. It just came to me. I kept being aggressive, and that’s what you’re going to need in the fourth a lot.”

Bulls center Noah was disappointed with his own effort on Friday, especially in containing Drummond, who finished with 26 points and 26 rebounds. But he was grateful to have Gibson step up as he did.

“Taj is somebody who sacrifices a lot for this team,” Noah said.

Even though the Bulls are now in control of their own destiny in the third seed, Thibodeau didn’t want his players to start thinking about the larger picture, yet.

“The big thing is to concentrate on improvement and get ready,” Thibodeau said. “If you go step by step, everything takes care of itself. We can’t look ahead at other things and get distracted.

“I think we have a good understanding of what goes into winning, and if you keep your eyes on that and know your opponent well, put in the necessary work into winning, the results will be good.”

3 Points: Bull with best chance at award?

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
12:00
PM CT
By ESPNChicago.com
ESPNChicago.com
Joakim Noah, Tom Thibodeau, Taj GibsonGetty ImagesThe Bulls should be well-represented when it comes to NBA awards this season.
Every week, Nick Friedell is joined by two other ESPN writers to weigh in on three questions that are on the minds of Chicago Bulls followers.

1. Which is most likely to happen: Joakim Noah wins defensive player of the year, Taj Gibson wins sixth man of the year or Tom Thibodeau wins coach of the year?


Nick Friedell, ESPNChicago.com Bulls writer: All three have a good shot to happen, but I'd go with Noah as the defensive player of the year in this group. He has earned a lot of respect throughout the league for the way he has led the Bulls on and off the floor this season. He is the linchpin of Thibodeau's stout defense and the player from which the rest of his teammates take their cues. Noah isn't going to win the MVP award, but this would be a nice consolation prize for him.

SportsNation

Which award is most likely?

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    69%
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    19%
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    12%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,310)

Jon Greenberg, ESPNChicago.com columnist: There's a groundswell of support for all three, or there should be. I'm guessing Gibson for sixth man is the most likely, with Noah and Thibs finishing in the top five of their respective ballots. I think Noah has a very strong case for first-team All-NBA, and he'll get MVP votes. Gibson might not be the instant-offense scorer that defines most sixth man winners, but he's clearly the most well-rounded substitute in the league. He has been a premium post defender since his second season in the NBA, but his offense has opened eyes this season. I think he beats out ex-Bull Jamal Crawford for the award and then, starting next season, graduates to a full-time starter.

Scoop Jackson, ESPN.com columnist: Jo as DOY. That's easy. Not that Taj and Tom don't deserve those respective awards, but the NBA has to find a way to make up for not giving JoNo the MVP when "technically" he might be more deserving of it than anyone else in the league.


2. Will the Bulls be worn out in the playoffs like they were in years past?


Friedell: While nobody ever really knows how a team will perform in the playoffs, my guess is that the Bulls won't hit the wall as hard as they did in years past. Aside from his use of Jimmy Butler, Thibodeau has made a concerted effort to pull back on some of the heavy minutes guys such as Noah and Kirk Hinrich played, when healthy, last season. Those little bits of extra rest should help over the course of the postseason. What will be interesting is to see just how much, if at all, Thibodeau uses his bench -- besides contributors such as D.J. Augustin and Taj Gibson.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Butler
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastJimmy Butler is fourth in the NBA, averaging 38.3 minutes per game.
Greenberg: I don't think so, besides the typical wear and tear that every team shows this time of year. Butler is fourth in the league in average minutes at 38.3, but the next-highest Bull is Noah, who is tied for 32nd at 34.9. Noah's 2,620 minutes is tops on the Bulls but only 23rd in the NBA. Thibodeau will never live down his "minute man" reputation, but aside from Butler's workload, he has deftly handled a seven-man rotation for much of the season. I side with Thibodeau on the point that great players log big minutes, and we harp on it a bit too much. All those injuries created that storyline, though. It seems like the Bulls' tweaks to the training staff have helped. I know that Noah's training regimen is different than in years past, and he finally got rid of his old shoes. Hinrich's health is key and the addition of Augustin has been crucial to keeping him on the floor.

Jackson: There's a great possibility in that. To the degree that if it happens, no one should be surprised. But unlike in years past, they've had a considerable amount of time to deal with the setbacks they've had to face. Mentally that doesn't exhaust you the way it does when major players unexpectedly go down and at this time of year (Derrick Rose in 2012, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich in 2013) or when expectations are high with hope and prayers of an MVP's return that never happens. This year, as worn out as they have the right to be after what they've done during the regular season, they are better prepared to mentally fight through it than they have been in the past.


3. Will Ronnie Brewer jump Tony Snell in the rotation?


[+] EnlargeRonnie Brewer
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhRonnie Brewer figures to cut into rookie Tony Snell's minutes in the playoffs.
Friedell: Yes, I think so. It takes time for Thibodeau to earn a player's trust -- just ask Butler. Snell has shown flashes of being a solid rotation player, but there are still times he frustrates Thibodeau. Brewer is a proven defensive commodity. If he can get back into basketball shape -- and knock down an occasional jumper -- I think he'll take a bulk of Snell's minutes in the postseason.

Greenberg: If he's in game shape, yes. Snell's a much better long-range shooter, but he's not Kyle Korver quite yet. He's still learning how to play on auto-pilot, as in without thinking on the floor, just reacting. I think Snell can be a very good pro, but Brewer's got that veteran split-second edge. If Brewer can show he can give Thibodeau 8-10 worry-free minutes, he'll get the call before Snell in the playoffs.

Jackson: Probably once the playoffs start, especially if the Bulls get to the second round. I'm not saying that Snell can't handle the playoff stage, but coaches shrink their benches in April, May and June, and usually vets with playoff experience get the nod over rookies that aren't superstars. Plus, Brewer was brought in to be, and is going to be, a glue guy for this team. He will be a utility player who is going to be asked to do a little bit of everything whenever he is on the court or when the Bulls are in need of something to fill a void. Snell is probably going to be asked to do only one or two things: score and cover for Butler if he gets in foul trouble. By that theory alone, Brewer will probably interrupt the rotation and Snell will be the one who suffers.

Believe it: Noah just keeps getting better

April, 9, 2014
Apr 9
11:04
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
Archive


MINNEAPOLIS -- Hours before Joakim Noah racked up his fourth triple-double of the season in a solid win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, the All-Star center followed the same routine he has had all season:

He spent extra time working on his game after shootaround ended as Bulls assistant coach Ed Pinckney patiently fed the big man the ball over and over.

Jump shots, free throws, post moves; they're all part of the work that has come to define Noah's most impressive season to date. He takes pride in the extra hours he has poured into his game.

[+] EnlargeJoakim Noah
David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images Joakim Noah says his confidence grows with every strong performance.
For the first time in several years, he's headed into a postseason without any lingering injuries that are gnawing at him. The extra work wasn't possible the past few years because his feet were riddled with plantar fasciitis and he tried to stay off them as much as possible.

Now, Noah strides confidently around an empty Target Center with a big grin on his face.

This is his team now without Derrick Rose and Luol Deng in the fold. As much as the emotional center shies away from any individual accolades, he knows that part is true. He knows he is the straw that stirs the drink in Chicago and he is hell-bent on continuing to prove wrong anyone who doubted him.

"I'm very proud," Noah said, reflecting on this season. "I'm very proud of this team. And just to be in this position right now, feeling like we can compete against anybody, it's a great feeling. We know that the playoffs are coming up, but we're playing for seeding right now and see where that takes us. And then at the end of the week, we'll find out who our matchup is, take it from there.

"It's going to be exciting."

He's not done.

"A lot of people are talking about the East as being weak and all that. It's not true," Noah said. "The East has really stepped up their game this year. Throughout the year I think the East has gotten better. It's an exciting time of year, man. Spring is in the air, I'm tired of freezing my ass [off]. It's the best time of year for me."

As has become his custom, Noah backed up his talk yet again Wednesday night, racking up 15 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. More than ever, Noah is trusting himself on the floor, trusting his instincts night after night.

While his eye-popping performances may continue to surprise some around the league, his teammates and coaches have come to expect those kinds of numbers each night.

"The usual," Bulls forward Taj Gibson said of Noah's performance. "Energy, toughness, heart."

"When we were lackadaisical on offense after being off three days, he's the one that got us sparked. Him and D.J. [Augustin]. He just kind of brought the energy."

It's that energy Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau loves most about his star center. It's that energy that makes the Bulls go. It's that energy that has pushed Noah -- and Thibodeau -- to new heights in each other's careers.

The veteran coach isn't surprised Noah's all-around game has improved.

"Because it's who he is," Thibodeau said.

"I can speak on the four years that I've been with him: He's gotten better every year. I talked to [University of Florida coach] Billy Donovan this summer quite a bit, and we talked about [Noah's] career in college, and he basically did the same thing."

Now Noah is just doing it on a much bigger stage. He's become a safe bet to earn first-team All-NBA honors this season -- something that seemed unthinkable just a few short years ago.

"For Jo, it's hard to measure all that he does for your team," Thibodeau said. "When you see him make three, or four, or five efforts on the same play -- is there a stat for that? No. When he swings the ball quickly to somebody where he doesn't get the assist -- where there's a trap, a kickout, and then another swing -- there's not a stat for that. But all those things lead to winning."

Indeed, Noah has become one of the best players in a league full of great ones -- and he knows it.

"I feel real comfortable," he said. "Making plays for my teammates, being aggressive when I have to. Just taking it day by day. Just trying to get better in every aspect of my game. All this stuff is just giving me more confidence, and I just want more."

Familiarity, trust make Brewer a good fit

April, 7, 2014
Apr 7
4:04
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
DEERFIELD, Ill. -- Ronnie Brewer wore a look of happiness and relief as he worked out around the Berto Center on Monday afternoon.

He was excited to be back with his teammates in a place where he had had success a few years earlier under Tom Thibodeau. He was proud of the fact his professional career could continue after being waived by the Houston Rockets earlier in the season. Most of all, he was pleased he was back with the Bulls.

[+] EnlargeRonnie Brewer
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhRonnie Brewer is happy to return to the Bulls for a second stint.
Like many players who have played for Thibodeau's Bulls over the last few years, he never wanted to leave Chicago.

Brewer enjoyed the camaraderie within the Bulls locker room, being a member of the "Bench Mob," and he fit into the fabric of the locker room with ease. His happy-go-lucky personality made him a popular teammate and friend to his peers. Problem for him was that he struggled in the 2011-2012 season down the stretch and fell out of Thibodeau's rotation. After the season, he landed with the New York Knicks and had some success before falling out of the rotation there. Then he was traded to Oklahoma City and rarely played there.

He started this season in Houston but couldn't find a regular spot in the rotation.

All those trials and tribulations made Monday's announcement even sweeter. From a broader perspective, it also reinforces just how strong the Bulls' culture has become under Thibodeau and the front office. Executives Gar Forman and John Paxson identify talented players who can handle Thibodeau's aggressive style and then he molds them into a winner.

It is an impressive feat that the trio, along with Thibodeau's assistant coaches, have accomplished over the past four years. They have created the type of winning culture in which players thrive. Thibodeau has always referred to the San Antonio Spurs as being the "gold standard" of the NBA, a team whose players know their roles and does their job on a regular basis. Slowly but surely, the Bulls have created a Spurs-like model.

While they may not have the type of Hall of Fame talent -- or recent championships -- that the Spurs possess, they do have the type of culture that has put San Antonio on an elite level for the past 15 years. Brewer's signing is the latest example of that. He was signed in large part because he knows exactly what is expected of him, and he plays the type of defense that Thibodeau expects.

"I think it's a big plus," Thibodeau said. "He has the characteristics that we look for -- high character, smart, and he plays for the team. It's good insurance to have."

It's good insurance for players such as Brewer as well. As long as they keep themselves in solid shape, they know they'll always have a shot to get back on Thibodeau's roster. It's the reason a veteran such as Mike James has had several stints with the Bulls in the past few years. It's not easy to earn Thibodeau's trust, but once a player does, they know they're always going to get an extra look from the demanding coach.

Thibodeau has built up a locker room based on accountability over the past four years, and his players respect him for that. That's why it didn't surprise Brewer that teammates such as Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler have improved since the last time he was around them on a day-to-day basis.

"That's part of the league and that speaks wonders of this organization," Brewer said. "They put the work in to get better day in and day out, and Thibs holds his coaches accountable and the coaches hold the players accountable. And you can tell those guys have been working on their game, and they're getting better and it shows on the court."

What also shows is that the togetherness and loyalty that Thibodeau breeds in his locker room never really fades away after players leave Chicago. It's why players still keep in touch and still joke around with each other even after they start playing for different teams. For an example, check out the Twitter/Instagram back and forth between Rip Hamilton, Nate Robinson and Noah during Saturday night's Final Four. Playing in the NBA is one thing, but playing -- and thriving -- on a Thibodeau team is another.

The players know how much hard work Thibodeau expects from them, and generally they look back on their team fondly when they have to leave. That hard work brings them closer together because they know it's not something they always sees throughout the NBA.

Brewer has been missing that feeling for the last two years, and that's why he so happy to get it back on Monday.

Bulls believe they can beat any team

April, 5, 2014
Apr 5
10:08
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
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.

[+] EnlargeJoakim Noah, Trevor Ariza, Trevor Booker
AP Photo/Nick WassJoakim 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.

(Read full post)

Rapid Reaction: Bulls 96, Wizards 78

April, 5, 2014
Apr 5
8:35
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
Archive


WASHINGTON -- Let's take a quick look at how the Chicago Bulls cruised to a 96-78 win over the Washington Wizards on Saturday night at the Verizon Center.

How it happened: D.J. Augustin had another huge game for the Bulls, going off for 25 points four rebounds and three assists, while Joakim Noah had 21 points, 12 rebounds and three assists as the Bulls controlled this game from the beginning and never let up. John Wall had 20 points, six assists and three rebounds to pace the Wizards, but they didn't have an answer for the Bulls' solid defense.

What it means: This was a great win for Tom Thibodeau's team. They came in on the second night of a back-to-back and dominated the game. They played with the type of intensity that has defined them this season and had their way on both ends of the floor. What has to make Thibodeau even prouder is that they imposed their defeinsive will on the Wizards, a team that has given them trouble this season. For a team that is preparing for the playoffs, this is the type of solid performance that will only bolster its confidence heading into the final week and a half of the season.

Hits: Carlos Boozer scored 10 of his 16 points in the first quarter and added four rebounds in 24 minutes.

Misses: Jimmy Butler was just 1-for-9 from the field.

Stat of the night: The Bulls were 9-for-22 from beyond the arc. The Wizards were just 2-for-15.

What's next: The Bulls have a few days off before taking on the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Derrick Rose
PTS AST STL MIN
15.9 4.3 0.5 31.1
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Noah 11.3
AssistsJ. Noah 5.4
StealsJ. Butler 1.9
BlocksJ. Noah 1.5