Bulls discuss win over Bobcats, look ahead
A six-game road trip, with intermittent stops back in Chicago in between, kicks off Thursday in Milwaukee for the Bulls, currently the Central Division leaders and third-place team in the Eastern Conference.
The final matchup of the season with the Bucks sets the tone for the stretch, as every team the Bulls will face is at least in playoff contention at the moment. But playing their divisional rival, to whom the Bulls have a 2-1 deficit in the season series, is squarely their focus.
"They’re playing hard. They’re shooting well, sharing the ball. Defensively, they’re tough. But that’s the way they play. The only thing that’s really slowed them down were the injuries. They’re talented. They’re deep. They have two dynamic guards. (Mike) Dunleavy and (Beno) Udrih come in and they don’t skip a beat. The ball is up on the boards and they’re active and quick to the ball. Ilyasova has gotten on track. They have a lot of weapons," Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said after Wednesday's abbreviated practice at the Berto Center.
All-Star center Joakim Noah added: "They’re a team with a lot of talent. They have a great backcourt. Sanders is playing very well too. They’re a tough team. [Former Bulls coach and current Milwaukee interim head coach Jim] Boylan is doing a great job."
"I think we just have to take it one game at a time, focus on the next opponent. We’ve been playing pretty well on the road. That doesn’t mean anything. It’s all about trying to win as many games as possible. The more we win, the closer we are, the more we have a good time," continued Noah, who noted that Thibodeau "was nice to us" Wednesday, referring to the abnormally short practice session. "I look at [the standings] all the time. I think that that’s the only thing that matters, trying to get the best record as possible so that we can play at home for the playoffs. The playoffs are what it’s all about. That’s why we play this game and play so hard during the regular season, to play those big games at the UC.
Butler to be the third Bull at All-Star weekend?
With his recent emergence, including a career-high 19 points in Monday night's home win over Charlotte, swingman Jimmy Butler is starting as a dark-horse candidate for the league's Rising Star Challenge, featuring the NBA's top rookie and second-year players during All-Star weekend in Houston, near his hometown of Tomball, Texas.
"It would mean a lot. It would mean I get to see my family again. They would get to see me play All-Star weekend. It’d be big," he said. "Who would think a little kid from Tomball would be playing for the Chicago Bulls and in All-Star weekend one day?"
Teammate Luol Deng, who will be in Houston with Noah as a member of the Eastern Conference All-Star team, is pushing Butler's inclusion in the game as well as the slam-dunk contest.
"Did they decide the sophomore-rookie game yet? I really see Jimmy being in that. I hope he’s in that," said the All-Star, who added that he felt "fine" and had "no setbacks" in his return to the lineup Monday after missing five consecutive games with a strained right hamstring. "I tried to get him in the dunk contest. I’m not one of those guys. I’ve never been in the dunk contest, never got the chance to, was never able to. But I think I’m very creative and I would like to be a part of it, where I’m helping Jimmy. I’ll put something together. I can’t do it, but I can teach it, so hopefully he’ll be in it. I don’t know, I think it might be too late."
The athletic Butler would be receptive to participating.
"I would do that. I think that’s what everybody wants me to do more than the Rookie All-Star game, especially the All-Star over there shooting (Deng)," he said. "Lu every day is asking me to get in that slam dunk contest."
"A helper would be the midget on our team, Nate [Robinson]. He’s been through it. He’d be my dunk helper," Butler continued. "I don’t know. Nate’s one of the biggest haters on the team. If I were to win, he’d say, ‘Oh, I did this better than you did.’ It would be a constant competition.
Butler was asked if he'd attempt to emulate former Bulls great Michael Jordan's historic foul-line dunk.
"I don’t know. I’ve never tried to jump from that far out. If I did get in, I'd have to practice," he said. "I can do a few things with the ball. But you see athletes nowadays, it’s like, man."
Deng acknowledged that Robinson, a former winner of the competition, would know how to coach Butler, but insisted that he could provide unique assistance.
"Nate is the expert. I’m just saying: I’m creative, man. That’s my biggest strength. I’m a smart guy. I could come up with some dunks that will be watched for years and years to come, if I get the opportunity," he joked. "I’ve got some stuff, man...I can’t give them up. I’ve got many. This is not just a one-hit wonder. I can’t do that. What if someone else does it? I’ll get no credit for it. I’m just saying, if you guys — anyone watching out there at the NBA — if you all want to see some great things, put Jimmy in the dunk contest."
Deng discusses defensive award, hoops in U.K.
On a more serious note, Deng, a second-team NBA all-defensive team selection last season, responded to Thibodeau's suggestion that he should be considered for the league's Defensive Player of the Year award at season's end.
"The defensive award, I think, is different in everybody’s view. I really feel strongly. I think that there’s a lot of guys, who play solid defense, affect a lot of shots and might not get recognized. I think a lot of times, it’s just becoming like a lot of things: It’s really what stands out. I think a lot of people will look at steals, guys with high steals, or guys with a lot of blocks, and I understand that. But that’s the direction it goes most of the time," he explained. "I think it’s hard for someone like myself or anyone else who really plays solid ‘D’ to really get backed up on that. When you look at the steals numbers, it’s not like my steals numbers are crazy or my block numbers are crazy. But a lot of the time, coaches see where there’s a help-side, affecting plays out there, affecting your guys’ shots — a coach is going away from a certain guy that they would normally go to a lot — those are the kind of things that win you games and coaches recognize. But when it comes to voting, a lot of the time, I think it’s about the numbers."
Deng, a member of Great Britain's national team during last summer's Olympics in London, as well as the face of the sport in the country, also talked about a letter he wrote to the British prime minister regarding cutting funding for the sport, something that's received significant attention in his adopted homeland.
"I felt like we’ve done so much for the game of basketball in the U.K., to get the opportunity, because we didn’t get an automatic bid to the Olympics. We had to qualify, we had to go through group stages and we were in Group B before we got to the highest group in Europe, so basketball’s taken a lot of strides to get there," he said. "For the inner-city kids, young kids, that’s the sport they play. It’s the second-most played sport after soccer, so to take that away, I think it will affect not just the game of basketball, but it will affect the whole U.K., in terms of kids spending time working and playing. I’m just talking about taking kids, instead of spending time on something they’re not going to benefit from, you’re taking away something they love doing and you never know what direction that might take."
Thibodeau, as expected, gave his usual update on the status of sidelined point guard Derrick Rose: "Same. Just working his way through things. He’s doing great," the coach said.
His players also know the drill, as the normally loquacious Noah resisted giving the assembled media too much information.
"You guys haven’t seen him as much as we do. But we see him all the time. So we’ve seen the progression the whole time because he’s been in the gym working out while we were practicing. He’s been working really, really hard," he explained. "That’s all we can ask. When you see your star player out and working as hard as he is to get back, it’s extra motivation. And it puts things in perspective, how lucky we are to be playing. I know there’s nothing he wants more.
"I didn't watch him today. Sorry," Noah continued, when pressed about the former league MVP's progress. "I think he'll be fine."
Butler chimed in: "He looks great. I just like the high-spirited part of him. He wants to get back as soon as possible. I just hope he takes his time and comes back whenever he’s ready."
Noah only smiled when asked a follow-up question about being instructed not to talk about Rose, but the center, who has been out of the lineup for long stretches with injuries in past seasons, did shed some light into the mindset of a player recovering from a long-term ailment.
"To me it’s when I run the floor," he explained. "Even just taking the ball out of bounds and running up the court, if I have a little pep in my step, I usually know it’s going to be good from there."