- Doug Padilla, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- After all this time to consider playoff possibilities, Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau still claims he's not crunching the numbers or sizing up ideal playoff scenarios.
It seemed clear he has at least taken a peek at matchup possibilities, but since the calculations were daunting, he preferred to stay focused on things under the team's control.
Although the Bulls defeated the Milwaukee Bucks handily Friday, 102-90, they struggled to stay focused for the full 48 minutes. The Bucks cut the deficit to eight in the final quarter before the Bulls finally got inspired to close out the victory.
"We're looking at how [victories] are done," said Taj Gibson, who scored 13 points. "We're trying to sharpen our weapons, as you would say, but at times, it's going to be tough. At times, there are going to be plays that are rough because guys' bodies are really feeling it. It's late in the season, but you have to keep pushing forward."
If Friday's contest was about fine-tuning for playoff time, the fact the Bulls had seven players score in double figures made it seem clear the goal is to make sure everybody is involved down the stretch.
So would the Bulls be ready if the playoffs started tomorrow?
"Well, [the playoffs] don't start tomorrow, so we're not concerned with that," Thibodeau said. "We're concerned with [each night] and our improvement, and I think the important thing is to go step by step. I think once you start looking ahead, it takes you off of what you really need to concentrate on and that's your improvement and getting ready for that particular night."
Saturday night should have more of a playoff feel since the matchup with the Washington Wizards is a potential first-round preview. The Wizards look to be in line for the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference, while the Bulls and Toronto Raptors are tied for the third spot. The third and sixth seeds face each other in the opening round.
Thibideau did his best Friday to make sure his team was not about to overlook an opponent, especially one in the Bucks, who have the second-youngest squad in the NBA to the Philadelphia 76ers.
"You get ready for everyone," Thibodeau said. "That's why you build those habits right from the start of the season. Nothing changes. Every team is capable of beating you. Concentrate on your improvement, understand what goes into winning and know your opponent well."
It's been a long season for the Bulls to have to keep up with the intensity from Thibodeau, so any lull they might have had against the Bucks is understandable. The team also knows its coach will be asking for even more come late April when the bright lights of the playoffs are shining.
"Every game is important," guard Jimmy Butler said. "We're closing in on the end of the regular season, and I just think there are things we have to correct. Of course, you want to win, but at the same time, it's still a learning process. We just want to go into the playoffs strong and get a rhythm going and just keep winning games."
Butler said that in the NBA, "a win is a win," but not everybody felt that letting the Bucks hang around was a step in the right direction. Friday night was not the type of basketball the Bulls want to be playing come playoff time.
"They played harder than us for a stretch, but we kind of picked it up," Gibson said. "We had a nice cushion for a bit, and when we needed to score, we got it done. No excuses. We need to tighten up. We kind of got lackadaisical. It's kind of hard to keep the intensity, but a win is a win, and we'll take it."