Bulls host Boston in Eastern Conference battle

Bulls host Boston in Eastern Conference battle
April 7, 2011, 2:31 pm
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Thursday, April 7, 2011Posted: 12:22 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

In the aftermath of Tuesdays narrow escape over Phoenix, the Bulls locker room was under siege. Reporters were firing questions at players left and right regarding the closeness of the victory, allowing the Suns to come back from 22 points down, the direction of the team, recent rebounding issues and the chemistry between Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer.

While Derrick Rose showed genuine concern, Noah exclaimed We won the game! and Boozer grew frustrated by the cute nature of the queries, Luol Deng logically observed that the Bulls put themselves in this position.

Were holding ourselves and you guys the media are holding us to a standard, said Deng. Weve raised the bar.

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I think everyone out there, even the fans today, theyre happy with the win, but they know we can play better and thats because weve showed it, he continued. Once youve shown you can do it, youre held accountable to keep doing it.

Coming into this season, a chance to finish first in the East and win 60 games likely would have exceeded even the most ardent fans expectations. Now? Players, media and fans alike have grown so accustomed to the Bulls winning ways that even a close call sounds off alarms.

This isnt a traveling rock band-type of crew, like in Michael Jordans heyday, but rather a blue-collar and to paraphrase Noah, a peoples champ styled squad, triumphing based on defense, team-first principles and in Rose, the most humble superstar in the game. While theyre happy for their success and appreciative of the attention, one gets the sense that they almost yearn for the mid-season anonymity that will never return.

Thursdays opponent, the Celtics, and the other team chasing the Bulls in the Eastern Conference standings, the Heat, still resonate more with casual fans. Yet, when opposing players and coaches are asked about title contenders, Chicago is never left out of the conversation these days.

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What a sharp contrast to a year ago, when injury woes, organizational turmoil and a fight to seasons end just to qualify for the postseason were primary concerns. While injuries have been an issue this season, the Bulls have so deftly adjusted on the flyhow many people believed 38-year-old Kurt Thomas and rookie Omer Asik would be such key contributors?that at least short absences by Boozer and Noah are no longer cause for panic.

Thursdays matchup is no longer notable simply because the Celtics are in town. It could be a future playoff matchup and without looking ahead too much, the onus could be on Boston, not the Bulls, to ensure it happens down the line.

One of the lines reporters are now used to hearing from Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeaualbeit usually after a lossis, In this league, you get what you deserve. Well, if thats the case, then that bar Deng referred to could get even higher.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.