CHICAGO -- Derrick Rose sees the irony in it all.
He knows that his Chicago Bulls have more than a little in common with the Boston Celtics. After all, his head coach, Tom Thibodeau, was a Boston assistant for three years and uses a lot of the same principles, especially defensively, that he implemented with the Celtics. Rose can see the resemblance in both teams when he watches Thibodeau's old team play, which makes it even more ironic that it's the Celtics and Bulls who are currently fighting it out for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls come into Thursday night's action with a one game lead over the Celtics.
"It's kind of weird, definitely weird," Rose said earlier this week. "[Thibodeau will] say something about them, how good they are, and it makes you think about it. Where we're kind of like the same team. Where we both over-help on the defensive side. Where usually people do that in college, that's not normal NBA defense I'll say. Most of the time, NBA teams leave you out on the island. And us, we just help everywhere and we depend on each other."
Rose knows that the Celtics do the same thing.
"That's a good team over there," he said. "The Celtics are a very good team and they've been in tough situations before. They play well together, kind of like how we do. We just keep fighting, no matter how much we're down it's going to still be a tough game. Right now, we're just trying to win it out. And for us, [if] winning gets us into that number one spot, we're fine with it. But if not, we'll still be thankful we're in the playoffs."
Speaking of the playoffs, Thibodeau drew some comparisons of his own to the Celtics when asked after Thursday's practice if too much is made of the fact that the Bulls, as a group, have not had enough playoff experience together to win in the postseason this year.
"The only way you get playoff experience is by being in the playoffs," Thibodeau said after Thursday afternoon's practice. "Now this team does have some experience, they've been in the playoffs, Luol [Deng] and Jo [Noah] and Derrick for two years and so for us, I think our preparation each day will prepare us for the playoffs. But the same things could be said about Boston three years ago. They didn't have a lot of playoff experience. And the only way they've gotten it is by getting there and winning so we're hopeful to be one of those teams. We feel that if we continue to improve, and the good teams in this league do that throughout the season, that we'll be prepared for the playoffs."
Both Rose and Thibodeau believe they will probably see Boston at some point in May if they want to reach the NBA Finals.
"[They're] a veteran team," Rose told ESPNChicago.com earlier this season. "They've been doing that for a long time where they know everything. They've won a championship together. They have a lot of confidence in what they do. They trust each other and they're just trying to win no matter what. They don't care about their stats or anything. They just want to hoop."
That attitude should sound pretty familiar to Bulls fans because it's the same one that Thibodeau has been preaching since he came to Chicago. Even though he knows a series with the Celtics is a distinct possibility, Thibodeau won't allow his mind to wander into thinking about any part of one right now. He's had a laser-like focus all year and that's not about to change now.
"I have a lot of respect for those guys," Thibodeau said. "But I'm concerned with how we're going to do and how we improve throughout the rest of the season. And I think we got here by our approach and that was just to take one day at a time and focus in on our improvement in that particular practice, then the next opponent, and that's what we want to continue to do.
"We feel that we're not going to have to change our style of play once we get to the playoffs. We've focused on being a well-balanced team from the start of the season and we want to continue to do that. And then, at the end of the year, it comes down to the teams that are playing the best, and the teams that are the healthiest, and we think we've done a good job in those two areas."
The fact that the Bulls have 51 wins at the moment backs up that point pretty nicely. But no matter how many wins they rack up, and what seed they end up with, Rose knows the truth ... the truth is that until somebody knocks off the Celtics, they're still the Kings of the East.
"I think that everybody that plays them is trying to make a point," he said. "Where they're a good team; you're trying to measure yourself to them, see where you're at, and if you get a win it don't do nothing but help you."
Never will that seem truer than over the next few weeks. In order for the Bulls to take the next step in their progression, they're going to have to knock off the team they most resemble to do it.