Thibodeau: Taj was just plain terrific
ATLANTA — Asked about the notion that his injured players — starters Kirk Hinrich, Carlos Boozer and All-Star Joakim Noah are all out with various ailments — would rest with the idea of being healthy for the playoffs, as was suggested by some of them after Friday night’s loss in Brooklyn, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau had his own personal Jim Mora moment.
“Playoffs? We’d better be worried about the next game. That’s how you get in trouble in this league. We’ve got a long way to go. You’ve got to focus on if you’re injured, your responsibility is your rehab,” he bristled. “Put everything you have into that each and every day — everything you have — and then, if you can play, you play. But to jump to the conclusion that you’re in the playoffs, that’s crazy! That’s crazy.”
That’s not to say that Thibodeau isn’t concerned about his players’ health, as he replied to a question about Boozer, who missed his third consecutive game Saturday with a right-hamstring injury, though his response could have applied to Noah’s recovery from plantar fasciitis in his right foot or Hinrich’s troublesome right elbow.
“I don’t ever want a player to make a decision based on where we are, whether we’ve lost the game,” he explained. “I want them healthy and I want them to make their decision based on whether they’re healthy enough to play or not. We have more than enough to win, so I don’t want that factoring in at all.”
With the aforementioned trio out for the Hawks game — Hinrich remained in Chicago, Noah didn’t warm up and Boozer made an attempt to suit up — Thibodeau also discussed how he’d handle minutes in light of the hard-fought loss to the Nets and the trip to Atlanta for a game the following evening.
“The guys who can handle minutes, get minutes. The guys who are older, we’ve been careful with their minutes. If you look at Rip’s minutes, you look at Carlos’ minutes, we monitor those very closely. The guys that are younger, that have shown they can handle the minutes, play more minutes. But to me, if a guy plays 38 minutes, then he plays 36, there’s not a whole lot of difference in that. Then, it’s what you’re doing in between,” Thibodeau said. “How are you pacing your team? Do you have days off? Then, what is it that you’re doing in practice? How much contact do you have in practice? All of those things factor into it. Just got to put the work in each and every day, get ready to play.”
Thibodeau also provided individual updates on both Hinrich and Noah, who he revealed were ruled out prior to Saturday’s contest; Boozer was officially considered a game-time decision.
“That’s [Noah’s day-to-day status] going to be it. He’s got to get treatment, see where he is each and every day, so hopefully he improves each day,” Thibodeau said about Noah. “You want him to be healthy. That’s the important thing, so he has to work on the rehab and getting back. That’s where his focus is. The guys that are here, they’ve got to be ready to step up.”
As for Hinrich, who returned to Chicago before Friday’s morning shootaround in Brooklyn to be examined by team physician Dr. Brian Cole, Thibodeau was uncertain about the prognosis for the veteran point guard.
“It’s probably going to be about a week or so. They cleaned it up. He needs a little bit of time for it to heal up,” he explained about Hinrich, whose bursa sac popped in his right elbow during a Jan. 7 home win over Cleveland and experienced “discomfort” following Wednesday’s road victory in Milwaukee. “I say around a week; I don’t know if it’s longer than that. But that’s we’re hoping. I just want him to be healthy. He’s such an important part of this team and for all our players, we’ve just got to get healthy.
“[Hinrich’s elbow is] just swollen. It was in a tough place, so he kept breaking it open. He’s on the floor all the time, so they just had to go in there and clean it up a little bit.”
Although Thibodeau might be sympathetic to his players’ ailments, when they do return to the court, he expects them to adopt the following mindset: “To win and to consistently win in this league, you have to be mentally tough, so you have to show that toughness each and every day. I think the teams that are able to sustain success have that. That’s part of their makeup. I think the teams that take shortcuts, it’s going to be up and down, so you have to put the work into it.”