Banged-up Bulls focused on task at hand

Thibodeau talks Rose recovery

Banged-up Bulls focused on task at hand
February 10, 2013, 4:15 pm
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DEERFIELD, ILL.—The Bulls still aren’t completely intact, but after returning to Chicago following a six-game extended road trip—they went 3-3 during the stretch, which included a brief stop at home before heading out West to face Denver and Utah—and having an off day Saturday, they’re getting closer.

Starting point guard Kirk Hinrich, who missed the final five games of the trip—he flew back from Brooklyn before the team’s shootaround ahead of their loss to the Nets—won’t play in Monday night’s game against San Antonio at the United Center, according to Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, but he did return to practice Sunday, though he didn’t participate much and wasn’t available to the assembled media.

All-Star Joakim Noah and backup shooting guard Marco Belinelli, who has a tender right ankle, also stuck to conditioning drills, but are expected to play against the Spurs.

“Kirk [is] back, just doing some running and stuff on the bike, but feeling a lot better,” Thibodeau said after Sunday afternoon’s practice at the Berto Center. Jo didn’t do much, just some bike and that some sort of stuff—he’s going to do a little bit of shooting now—and Marco didn’t do a lot either. He was on the bike today.

“[Noah is a] game-time [decision], but he should be fine,” he continued. “Same [for Belinelli], game-time [decision]. We had an opportunity to get a second day of rest, so I just felt it would be smart to give them that second day.”

Thibodeau isn’t one to reflect much, but he assessed the road trip as mostly positive, save for last Thursday’s aberration against the Nuggets, in which the Bulls allowed the highest point total of his tenure in Chicago and suffered the largest margin of defeat.

“There’s a lot of challenges throughout the entire trip from different guys being out. Initially, the Indiana game was where we had a four-day break. That was the make-up game, so we lost some time there. But that’s the NBA. Those things happen, you have to be ready for it. In five of the six games, I thought we played well enough to win and obviously, we weren’t pleased by the way we played in Denver,” he explained. “But you have to move on and looking back does us no good. We want to be focused on San Antonio. We know how good they are and we have to be ready for that game.”

The coach acknowledged that this time of the year, just prior to the All-Star break, leaves some teams vulnerable, as players are anxious for a day off. However, with his team’s vaunted defense experiencing some lapses on the road, a perennial power like San Antonio in town and a road game against rival Boston before the league’s annual festivities begin, he believes a combination of wisely pacing his team and preparing for the stiff competition that awaits will ensure the proper focus.

“At this time of the year, you’re not going to have a six-hour practice, so you have to prioritize the things that you feel you need work on. You do some through film, you do some through walk-through, you do some through practice. We just have to clean some things up. Each day, we’ll touch on something different, try to straighten it out,” he said. “I like the way we’re being tested right now and the challenge always before the break is you don’t want to go on the break early. You have to stay focused on improvement and the next opponent. You’re not looking to the second half of the season or the All-Star break. Just concentrate on San Antonio. That’s the only thing we need to concentrate on.

“The season is a grind and you can’t skip steps, and I think there’s certain times of the year where it’s easier to be distracted, but if you look, if you’re not guarded, you can find an excuse almost every night. That’s not what we want to do. We want to be consistent with our preparation and our approach, and hopefully, we can continue to improve,” Thibodeau continued. “I think right from the start when we set our goals for the season, we talked about how important it was to concentrate on improvement and what goes into improving. You begin the season with the end in mind, where you want to build the right habits that will allow you to be successful down the stretch and of course, being healthy is a big part of that, so we want to be playing our best basketball at the end of the year and we want to be as healthy as possible.”

Noah concurred: “We’re playing against some very solid opponents, teams that are playing really, really good basketball, so we definitely have to stay focused and try to get results, too.

“I’ll tell you what,” the center, who did some extra shooting after many of his teammates were done for the day, went on to say. “Practice doesn’t change too much. It’s pretty much the same thing, so he’s more interested in just our energy level and making sure that we’re doing everything at 100 percent.”