After the NBAs last work stoppage, the New York Knicks made a Cinderella run of sorts, sneaking into the playoffs as an eighth seed, then advancing all the way to the finals, despite not having the services of All-Star center Patrick Ewing, before losing to the San Antonio Spurs. That Knicks team, the last New York squad to make it to the championship round, was celebrated for its heart, embodied by fearless players like Latrell Sprewell and Marcus Camby.
The head coach of that team was also beloved by its fans and while Jeff Van Gundy never got back to the Finals though he had some successful seasons in Houston, where injuries to stars Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady frequently derailed the Rockets playoff aspirations based largely on the Knicks run, his profile was greatly enhanced, something thats carried over to career as a broadcaster. One of Van Gundys assistant coaches in New York during that 50-game 1998-99 NBA campaign and subsequent playoff run (as well as in Houston) was currently Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau.
Thibodeaus Bulls are constituted differently than that Knicks team and the circumstances, not to mention expectations, of this season also differ, as the league mandated a 66-game abbreviated schedule. Still, Thibodeau admitted that he does occasionally draw upon his experiences.
Hopefully you learn from all your experiences. Not just that season, but every season after that. How you pace your team, I think, as a head coach, is critical. You map it out. Once the schedule comes, you see where your schedules heavy and you have to plan accordingly, he said after Wednesdays morning shootaround at the Berto Center. You still have to get things done, youve got to be ready to play and theres different stretches, where youll have the opportunity to practice more, and you want to take advantage of that. Then, you have to evaluate whether rest is more important than practice. Theres a lot of things that factor into it. You never want to stay the same. You always want to try to get better, so I hope Im learning something every day.
While Thibodeau isnt one to make excuses whether now or in the past he noted how the Knicks injuries woes hamstrung the team, though he didnt mention Ewing specifically, but also cited that, in his opinion, the current scenario leaves less time for preparation.
I felt like we had more time during that lockout and my experience that year was we had a couple injuries early on, and then we had to, I believe, win eight or nine out of 10, just to get the eighth seed. Thats what it is, but you have to learn to navigate around all that stuff. Some years, youre healthier than others, said Thibodeau before realizing he was perhaps being too candid and reverting back to his usual name, rank and serial number mode that is used for the media. But like I said before, we have a deep roster, we have 14 players that we feel can all play and I think theyre all ready. When they get the opportunity, we expect them to play well. I think the way that they prepare each and every day I get an opportunity to watch them practice and see them concentrate so Im not surprised and Ive said this all along: I believe that we have more than enough to win with.