Pulling wins out of thin air
Friday's win over Magic just another determined effort by undermanned Bulls
CHICAGO -- Twenty-three point eight seconds left, a one-point game, Vladimir Radmanovic's in, the Friday night United Center crowd is on its collective feet, where else would you rather be?
How bad was this game? The Bulls shot 21.7 percent while scoring 14 points in the first quarter and went scoreless for the last 3 minutes and 51 seconds of the game. The Bulls won because a 21-8 run preceded the closing scoring drought, and also because Orlando is terrible.
More than enough to win with? Radmanovic was the last man in Thibodeau's emergency seven-man rotation and wound up playing a season-high 23:07.
I had to ask Thibodeau if he was worried about burning out the rarely-used VladRad, who played 11 minutes the night before.
"I worry about everything," Thibodeau said with a hint of a smile.
You don't say. As tired of Thibodeau as the Bulls must be, they're still hearing his message.
"When you hear you have enough to win on any given night, you start to believe that," Jimmy Butler said.
The Magic had a chance to win on its last possession out of a timeout with just under 24 seconds left, but Beno Udrih, who passes for a household name on the Magic roster, turned the ball over trying to drive, and Butler came up with the ball near the Bulls' bench.
"I had just enough legs left to grab that ball," Butler said.
Udrih had a game-high 27 points but went scoreless in the fourth. Butler played defense on the guard, but refused to take the nickname of "The Beno Stopper."
"My mother named me Jimmy Butler the Third," he said.
Butler scored 12 points and played nearly 43 minutes, giving the Bulls everything he had. And they needed it and more.
With four players out, this wasn't just a win over a scrub team playing out the string. It was a meaningful victory on the second night of a back-to-back and playing for the fifth time in seven days.
Amazingly enough, the Bulls (42-33) are one game back of Brooklyn, whom they beat on Thursday night, for the fourth seed and home-court advantage in the first round. Atlanta and Boston lost Friday night, giving the Bulls a little cushion against their pursuers.
The new motto in the business office is "Win One For Gate Receipts!"
"We want to win all the rest of these games, that's for damn sure," Butler said. "And we're going to try and do that."
But there is some thinking that the Bulls would rather be the sixth seed and avoid Miami in the second round. It's probably wishful thinking to care at all about matchups without What'shisname Rose. Still, there's something to be said about ignoring the future and playing for the present.
"We're not avoiding nobody," Nate Robinson said. "Wherever we fall, wherever we land, we're ready to play whoever it is."
The Bulls won't run the table, but New York (home on April 11) and Miami (road on April 14) are the only two playoff teams in the remaining seven games. But the Bulls still have back-to-backs on April 11-12 and 14-15 before finishing up the season hosting Washington on April 17.
"Seven more, then we start the real games we've been preparing for," Nazr Mohammed said.
At this point, it's fair to wonder who will be reaping the benefits of that preparation.
This isn't a "Fo' Fo' Fo'" type of team heading into the playoffs. More like "No No No."
Joakim Noah missed his eighth straight game with plantar fasciitis, Marco Belinelli his seventh straight with an abdominal muscle strain, Taj Gibson missed his second with a knee sprain, Rip Hamilton missed his 18th straight with back problems. Derrick Rose, as you might've heard, hasn't played all season. I saw Thibodeau go into the training room after the game and I'm afraid to ask what happened. Maybe Benny the Bull sprained his funny bone.
As for the healthy and mostly healthy Bulls, Luol Deng and Robinson each had 19 points to lead Chicago. Deng had an efficient 18 points in the Bulls' win over Brooklyn on Thursday, but was dragging for most of Friday's game. He shot 5-for-18, but hit both of his 3-pointers in the fourth and made all seven of his free throws for the game. Robinson was the spark again, scoring 12 points on 5 of 9 shots in the fourth, including 2 of 3 on 3s. Chicago outscored Orlando 21-16 in the final quarter despite going scoreless for the last 3:51.
"One thing about the NBA, the games are long," said Mohammed, who had 11 rebounds in 31:21. "With a long game, there's always a chance to come back or get it going at some point."
There is nothing good about the Bulls' injury bug, but it worked out for Radmanovic the past two games as he's played 34 of his 128 minutes for the season. He even hit a big 3 from the corner in the fourth to put the Bulls up 85-78 with 4:21 to go. It was his fifth of the season.
"I was telling guys, everybody was going 'Keep shooting, shoot the ball, shoot the ball,' but when you don't play the whole season and you're running up and down, the ball starts feeling a little different than when you're shooting it regular," Radmanovic said. "It was a good feeling to hit a shot like that."
Good feelings are hard to come by for the Bulls nowadays as we think ahead to next season when Rose will actually suit up. But for another night, the professionals still playing on the Bulls suited up and got another win. Not a bad night's work.