Every player, every game counts

CHICAGO -- Keith Bogans is such an easy target, his nickname should be Angry Birds.

The only non-essential member of the Chicago Bulls' starting five, the veteran newcomer Bogans has been Public Enemy No. 1 for an insatiable fan base as his scoring has been sparse and his clanks plentiful.

He has endured the groans of the home crowd, while likely ignoring the rips on Twitter and in the media.

But at least the guard is respected in his locker room, right?

"Hey Bogie," yelled a towel-clad Kurt Thomas, who peeked in the locker room from the showers. "They're killing you in here. Come defend yourself."

Bogans paid his elder critic no mind, and kept getting dressed. If he was getting dissed, it was out of love.

Bogans scored a season-high 17 points, hitting 5 of 10 3-pointers, in a ho-hum 98-79 win over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night.

The performance was critical as the Bulls were without Joakim Noah (flu-like symptoms) and Carlos Boozer (sprained ankle) and playing for first place in the Eastern Conference.

At 48-18, the Bulls now have a half-game lead on Boston for the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. But with 16 games to go, Chicago now has to deal with the added pressure of playing for home court advantage in the playoffs -- no small goal for a team that's 30-4 at the United Center and 18-14 on the road.

"Just one game at a time," said Derrick Rose, who had 23 points and seven assists. "Everyone wants it to be over with really soon, but we've still got 16 more to go. So we're trying to get them all."

The Bulls defense continues to lock down opponents. They held a team under 80 points for the fifth time in the last 10 games. Only the Jazz have broken 90 in that span.

Bogans came in averaging 3.9 points in 17 minutes a game. He doesn't get many looks or late minutes, but he's on a winning team, so he says he's not sweating the statistics.

"My job on this team is to defend first," Bogans said. "I don't get caught up in 'I'm a shooting guard.' We've got Derrick, we've got Carlos, we've got Luol [Deng]. They take the bulk of the shots. I'm going to get us going defensively and when my shot's there, I'm taking it. I know my role on this team."

Does Bogans mind the criticism or even the repeated questions about the criticism?

"It doesn't frustrate me at all," Bogans said with a smile. "I'm being talked about."

The Wizards were practically daring him, and the rest of the Bulls, to shoot, playing zone for nearly the entire game.

"You have to do that because Rose is so good in the paint," Wizards coach Flip Saunders said. "When he gets in there, it opens everything up."

The plan worked somewhat, in that the Bulls shot 40 percent and took 32 3-pointers, making only 12.

"We try to get 30 a game," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau joked. "Seriously, those are the shots that presented themselves."

While Bogans caught fire, it was a tough shooting night for the remaining stars.

Rose shot 8-for-21 and Deng had 20 points on 8-for-19 shooting. As Noah's replacement, Thomas logged less than 38 minutes and grabbed 15 rebounds.

Noah was quarantined at home, while Boozer, still suffering from a sprained ankle in Charlotte, got to show off his wardrobe on the bench.

Thibodeau, once again proving why he's the favorite for coach of the year, has drilled his team on playing zones for situations like this one.

"We work on it every day," said Taj Gibson, who had nine points and 13 rebounds as a starter. "Ev-er-y day we work on zone for about 20 minutes. Finally when they show us some zone we get to work on some things we've been working on in practice."

JaVale McGee got 12 blocks playing in the middle, and wound up with an ugly triple double (adding 11 points and 12 rebounds).

"They tried to junk the game up," Rose said. "They didn't want to double-team me, making sure when I go past the first person, someone else was at the rim. We've got a lot of shooters on this team, we just tell them to shoot when they're open."

Not to belabor the Thibs campaign, Gibson said that one way Thibodeau is keeping the Bulls from looking ahead is providing extremely detailed scouting reports on every team and forcing his players to memorize them.

"If we are preparing the way that we are supposed to and doing the right things, the results will take care of themselves," Thibodeau said.

Another one down, 16 to go. Don't start looking ahead just yet, because every game matters the rest of the season. And if you do, Professor Thibs is ready to quiz you.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.