Thibodeau balances end of regular season, playoff preparation

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Thibodeau balances end of regular season, playoff preparation

CHARLOTTE With five regular-season games left until the playoffs begin and his team in position to have the leagues best overall record and thus, home-court advantage throughout the postseason one might expect Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau to feel at ease. However, after a shocking home loss to the lowly Washington Wizards and his two All-Stars, ironman Luol Deng and reigning league MVP Derrick Rose, both ailing, there is also reason for him to be concerned.

But in true Thibodeau fashion, the second-year NBA head coach and frontrunner for unprecedented back-to-back league top-coaching honors, put things in perspective.

Its a compilation of things. One, your health is critical and you want to be playing well. This will be unique this year. Its different. We end on the 26th and we begin on the 28th for the playoffs, so basically, its a continuation of the regular season. Youre trying to tie all those things together, explained the coach, who left unspoken another issue, the fact that not only does he not have control of whether Rose or Deng suits up, hes sometimes in the dark about whether or not theyll play up until close to game time, as was the case Monday, according to a source familiar with the situation. But health is a priority. Playing well is a priority. Youd like to have a set rotation, where guys are comfortable knowing when theyre going into a game and things of that nature, so all of the above and youre trying to shore things up and improve as you go along.

Ideally, you try to put as many things in your favor as possible, so is home-court advantage a must? I always think if you can get it, you get it and if not, whatever your circumstances are, you make the best of those circumstances. Were young and I want us to continue to improve, learn how to win. Last year I thought home court helped us a lot, but if you dont have home court, you dont and you have to win more on the road, Thibodeau went on to say prior to the Bulls Wednesday-morning shootaround at Time Warner Cable Arena. Last year was a lot different. Last year we won our last nine going in, so I thought we hit the ground running. This year its a different season entirely. You dont have nearly as much practice time, not nearly as much rest and youre not going to have nearly as much time to prepare when you go into the playoffs. Basically, its one day and youre playing, and were going to have to be ready when it comes.

While Thibodeau has an eye on the playoffs whether or not he admits it he also would like to see his team play with more urgency in the present, despite knowing pulling off occasional miracles, playing short-handed and the squads focused, defensive-oriented and intense style has worn on them during the lockout-shortened season, something that was clear in Mondays contest.

You learn from every situation, hopefully we have. I believe we were up 11 with 10:43 to go in the game. Your fourth quarter, you want that to be your best quarter and it wasnt. We were outscored 30-21. We gave up 11 points in basically a little over a minute. We allowed three three-point plays, two threes and one conventional three-point play. During that time, I also believe we had three turnovers, said Thibodeau, who delivered some of his more pointed comments during his postgame press conference. In a minute, a game can change and we have to understand that.

Still, it would be foolhardy to think the ultra-prepared coach isnt already simultaneously managing current concerns with future plans.

The advance guys are preparing now. You have to, especially with the way the playoffs are structured this year. Youre only going to have one day between the end of the season and the playoffs. They know what their job is. Theyll have everything ready. For us, I just want them focused on the next game, he said recently. Where you are in the season, too, right now youre going head to head with a lot of the teams youre going to be facing or you have the possibility of facing. That helps in some ways, too.

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott wasn’t exactly hunting for his first shot, but the first time he touched the ball in an NBA game in nearly a month wasn’t the optimal situation for him to let one fly.

It wasn’t in transition where he runs to an opening behind the 3-point line, nor was it a drive-and-kick situation where the help defense collapsed and left him open. It was a regular, simple, pass to the perimeter and McDermott’s defender was in reasonable proximity with 3:23 left in the first quarter.

He launched and the crowd soon roared its approval as his sweet jumper was sorely missed by the Bulls bench brigade—and moments later when he ran the floor for a fearless layup that caused Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to call a timeout, McDermott showed he missed the United Center crowd too, calling for more noise on his way to the bench.

“Anytime you have a guy like Doug, he comes back and makes his first 3, that’s hard to do,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He stepped up with confidence on that first shot. I’m sure he had a lot of nerves getting back out there.”

Missing 12 games and suffering two concussions, McDermott looked right at home in 25 minutes of run Thursday as the Bulls were able to rely on their reserves in some form in their 95-91 win over the previously perfect road warriors known as the Spurs.

“We defended and kept them off the foul line,” McDermott said. “Coach (Jim) Boylen was with them, so we feel we know them and I think all this time they were missing my defense.”

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The last statement was certainly tongue-in-cheek, but the Bulls’ bench production was certainly missing in action while he was out with the concussion protocol. So much so that his return prompted the Bulls’ coaching staff to call out the reserves in the morning shootaround, demanding more.

“It’s definitely Dwyane (Wade) and Jimmy (Butler) and (Rajon) Rondo (but) the coaching staff kinda called out our bench like, we gotta have you tonight, bench,” McDermott said. “We took that to heart, we were really locked in.”

Seemingly his presence aided the Bulls’ spirits and production, as the Bulls’ bench had the least effective scoring bench in the NBA since Nov. 13, the day after McDermott hit the unforgiving floor against the Wizards for his second concussion this season.

Their net rating ranks ahead of only the Wizards, Mavericks and Nets, who are a combined 17-45 this season. Their effective field goal percentage, which takes into account 3-pointers, is worst in the league in that span (42.3 percent).

When McDermott was healthy for that smaller sample size, the Bulls’ bench ranked fifth in offensive efficiency, seventh in net rating, and fifth in efficient field goal percentage. Whether McDermott – and his absence – was directly related to those numbers, it’s clear the Bulls are better when they have their best reserve – and only true floor spacers on the second unit – on the court.

“We’re all professionals and we want to help the guys who are busting their butts in the first unit to get us the leads,” McDermott said. “Tonight we did a great job of sustaining it. We take it personal when teams come back on us.”

[MORE: Pau Gasol relishes consistency with Spurs he couldn't find with Bulls]

Nikola Mirotic was four of eight from the field, and Cristiano Felicio seems to be back in Fred Hoiberg’s good graces as he’s carved out a rotation spot for himself with nine points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes.

It seems as if Hoiberg will stick with this rotation of players, at least for a little while until Michael Carter-Williams returns from his injuries. If McDermott is the mark of the Bulls’ bench going from bottom feeder to adequate, it should show this month.

“When he’s out there on the floor and we get him coming off screens, it forces the defense to shift as another person they need to be aware of,” Hoiberg said. “It opens up driving lanes for our guys. It was great to have Doug back with us.”

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

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