Thibodeau's gamble with Rose pays off

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Thibodeau's gamble with Rose pays off

Due to his obsession with the game of basketball, it's unlikely that Tom Thibodeau has time for off-court interests such as gambling, but Thursday night, the Bulls head coach bet on himself. Actually, as a point of clarification, he bet on the culture that he not only espouses to the media on a daily basis, but that he's ingrained in his first-place team.

Why else would he have take on the risky move of benching reigning league MVP Derrick Rose, the present and future of the franchise, for more than an entire quarter's worth of action, then putting him back in late in the fourth quarter of Thursday night's Bulls' overtime win over the Heat because, in his words, "C.J. needed a break"? No offense to Watson, who's established himself as one of the league's better backup point guards this season, as well as a more than capable fill-in starter during Rose's absences this season, but -- going back to the gambling analogy -- those sound like the words of a man who isn't playing with a full deck.

Unless, of course, that man is Thibodeau, who, with apologies to San Antonio's Gregg Popovich, should have put a stranglehold on league Coach of the Year honors, which would give him unprecedented back-to-back awards in his first two seasons as an NBA head coach. Say what you want about Thibodeau, but at least he isn't just paying lip service to the team-first concept he consistently drills into the heads of his players and media alike.

"Derricks been out for so long. He did some good things, too," he explained about his superstar, who shot 1-for-13 after returning from a one-game hiatus due to an ankle sprain. "We knew that would be the case and hes done fine in practice. Theres not a lot of contact in practice, so you dont know what the conditioning component will be until you get into the game and again, there were some things he did very well. Hes a little rusty, but again, thats to be expected. He didnt knock down shots that he normally makes, but I thought for a first time back after an extended time off, I thought he was fine and itll only get better.

"C.J. needed a break. Otherwise, he would have finished it out and at that point, I was also thinking that Derrick had been out for an extended amount of time, so it was a tough call, but he did fine," continued Thibodeau, "Big picture, in terms of if this was his first or second year, maybe you would be more concerned with that, but where Derrick is now as a player, he understands the situation. Hes coming off an injury, hes a very confident guy, hell get up to speed very quickly and the thing that you love about him, he was so happy we won, and happy for his teammates, and thats who Derrick is."

Indeed, after the game, Rose was nothing about positive about the situation. Regardless of how poorly he performed, a player of his caliber has to have some ego to get to the level he's at, but Rose, the definition of humility, took his benching in stride, knowing that the move likely won the game for the Bulls, as Watson sent the game into overtime on his three-pointer with 2.2 seconds left in regulation, as well as playing an outstanding floor game for the entire evening.

"I'm just trying to get my rhythm back. I've had worse games than this. I'm just happy we got the win. Just happy we got the win. That's the only thing that matters to me," Rose said afterwards. "C.J., along with everybody off the bench, they played a great game and that's the reason why we won.

"If I saw this, I wouldn't have played. I thought I was going to come out and do all right," he continued, joking. "I'm fine, man. You know me. Anything to win. If that lineup was going to win the game, we won the game and I can't complain about anything."

Remember, this is a young man who routinely put up pedestrian scoring numbers while playing in high school at Simeon Career Academy, yet won back-to-back state titles and again sacrificed statistics in his lone college season at Memphis, where the John Calipari-coached team made it to the national-title game, and only in the NBA has he had to truly dominate as a point producer to reap the benefits of winning, so his natural correlation is, as he mentioned, "anything to win," meaning that, especially in his rusty state, the damage done to his pride is minimal and his subpar outing, not the fact that he wasn't playing when the game still hung in the balance, will stick with him more. In actuality, there was no pedestal to knock Rose off, at least not in the Bulls' locker room, but for the rest of the roster to see that Thibodeau isn't beyond sitting the team's unquestioned star makes it hard for others to pout when their number isn't called.

On a squad that firmly believes that this is their time, their season, their chance to win it all, that mentality is all-important and sacrificing for each other means more to them than any individual accolades. This was simply Rose's turn, in the midst of an injury-riddled campaign, one in which his mother muttered, "This child hasn't been hurt this much in his life," while walking down a United Center hallway, to exemplify Thibodeau's mantra of "we have more than enough to win."

Of course, having to swallow pride isn't just limited to Rose, as during Thibodeau's brief tenure in Chicago, almost the entire roster -- from Taj Gibson giving up his starting spot to Carlos Boozer when the starting power forward returned from an early-season injury last season, to Boozer famously sitting out the fourth quarter in favor of Gibson during last spring's playoff and from Rip Hamilton having to wait until Thibodeau signed off on him playing (even after he was medically cleared, then playing less minutes than the former All-Star has ever been accustomed to receiving, though not because of his conditioning, as he quipped, "I run like a racehorse") to Joakim Noah being on the sidelines for crucial stretches, including Thursday, when he was nailed to the bench from midway through the third quarter until overtime, when Gibson fouled out -- has had to deal with being idle, even after they've demonstrated their value. For instance, take Ronnie Brewer, the reserve swingman who started in Hamilton's place for much of the season, then went back to the bench and has seen inconsistent minutes with the whole team more or less fully intact.

"I don't think about that at all. Whenever my name is called, I try to go out there and play as hard as I possibly can," Brewer told CSNChicago.com. "If the minutes are there, they're there. If they're not, they're not. I can only help the team out when I'm on the court and when I'm not, I just support my teammates."

It might sound like athlete-speak, a canned answer to deflect any controversy, but even if it is, Brewer's response to a question about the Bulls' changing rotation rings true. Noah's aforementioned situation is another clear-cut example, as Thibodeau criticized the energy's player lack of energy following the disappointing Easter Sunday loss at New York and the center, speaking in an uncharacteristic monotone, added, at the end of a brief interview -- when Noah's upbeat and passionate, he's one of the league's best interviews, but when he's dejected after a loss, it's hard to get much out of him -- "I want to be out there more, too."

But following Tuesday's rematch with the Knicks, a Bulls win, he explained, " At the end of the day, everybody wants to be out there more as a player, but you have to understand that you have to sacrifice for another and sometimes you say things out of frustration. But I think that sometimes you might have a different opinion than your coach. But he's the leader and he's the one who makes the decisions, so you've got to trust him and when he makes those decisions, you've got to be ready to play when your name is called."

He had a nearly identical tone after Thursday's victory, when talking about Rose.

"Theres nothing to be upset about. When youre leaders a team-first guy, it trickles down to everybody," said Noah. "It just shows what kind of character he has and were trying to win here. It was just a great team effort."

So, the crux of it is, the team's humility, best embodied by Rose, has spread like a virus to all 14 of the Bulls, forming a rare bond between professional athletes, millionaires who are their own individual corporations and have been stars at some level prior to the NBA, if not the pro ranks, in order to achieve a common goal. While Hamilton bides his time as he waits for more minutes -- "Were just playing it by ear," he said. "Whatever Thibodeau wants me to do, Im going to do." -- Rose knows that he needs to get in gear, back to his previous form, sooner than later because although the team concept has worked on many nights when he's been absent this season, he'll need to be at his brilliant best in order for the Bulls to host their first championship parade since the owner of the lowly Charlotte Bobcats was hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy.

"It's going to take a little time. Tomorrow, I'll come in, try to get my rhythm back, playing three-on-three again," he said. "I feel good. My mind's thinking some things my body can't do, but I've never had a problem getting my rhythm back.

"When you're out there, my biggest thing was trying to play aggressive, but my shots didn't fall," Rose continued. "I've had worse games than this. I think I only hit one shot, but these games right here, they'll just make me a better player, a stronger player.

"I'm not worried about my stats or anything. I'm just trying to get back out there before the playoffs start. Could I make up excuses? Yeah, but you know me. I'm not going to use an excuse. My shots weren't falling. Shots I normally hit weren't hitting. My teammates had my back and I'm happy I have them on my team."

Kyle Korver, who's currently on a hot streak -- but has been through cold stretches and had to earn Thibodeau's trust with his defense, admittedly not his strength -- put Rose's present situation in the context of the team.

"Derrick, hes missed like 30 games. Hes going to be a little rusty. I dont care who you are, youre going to be a little rusty. I wasnt really thinking about that, to be honest. When youre in the game, youre thinking, Next play,'" he said. "Derricks attitude in how he handles losses, takes the blame every time. Hes there for us and hes encouraging us. Its been a hard year for him. A hard year. Youre 23 years old, youre MVP last year and you come in, you get four, five different injuries in this crazy season with all these games. It says a lot about him and his character. Not a lot of superstars can take the criticism that he gets and play the minutes that he does, and still keep the head that he has. Hes a really humble guy, hes all about winning. Obviously he has the ball most of the time because hes the former MVP, hes a great player, but if someone else is open, hes going to pass the ball and hes just a good guy.

"Obviously other guys have had to step up. Weve tried to do that. Different nights, different guys have stepped up. Weve had to really pay attention to detail on defense and rebounding. We really have to do those things really well when Derricks out of the lineup and obviously Thibs is a coach where were going to focus on it anyway, but I think in our minds, we know we have to be so good at that," he continued. "We're in the last month, but Thibs preaches one game at a time and we all drink the Kool-Aid, we've all been brainwashed, so one game at a time. But we know there's not a lot of time left."

One guy who never has to worry about minutes, Luol Deng, chimed in: "Its going to take time. Weve got seven more games. Weve just got to be smart as a team and realize whats going on out there on the floor, using each others strengths. Those guys -- Rip, Derrick -- being the guys that just came back, weve got to do what weve got to do to get them back in rhythm and get them back comfortable, but I dont doubt that them and hopefully it wont take that long and those guys will start getting their rhythm.

"Thats been us all year and nobody will question C.J. taking that shot and even if he missed, no one would question that. Thats our basketball. Thats what we do, make smart plays and just trust in each other," he added. "Having so many guys out gave a lot of guys a chance to step up and feel comfortable in their role, instead of having all of a sudden being some hero. This is a role theyve been in all year."

From All-Stars Rose and Deng to John Lucas III -- from third-string point guard best known last season for missing clutch free throws in a loss at Denver to fan favorite due to his instant-offense heroics, including successfully dueling LeBron James the last time the Bulls beat Miami at home and back to a DNP-CD Thursday -- and rookie swingman Jimmy Butler, showing potential as a poised defensive specialist in his debut NBA campaign, the Bulls have proven that they trust each other completely, don't shy away from the big moment and relish the fact that their sum of parts is greater opposing teams' sometimes superior talent. That's the core principle of the team as a whole, but especially the "Bench Mob," the cohesive second unit that more than any individual player is the squad's MVP.

"I love the versatility of our bench because I feel that whatever is needed in the game, you can go down our bench and find it.It's a testament, also to the guys that we have and how they stay ready, and how they work. When we're at full strength, everyone will go back into their roles and if you're not in the rotation, you just have to stay ready and I think the one thing our bench has shown is that they can do that, so in some cases, guys were not in the rotation and went to starting, and handled that well. Other guys went from being in the rotation to starting and handled that well, and some guys will be going back to their normal roles, back to the bench. The luxury that we have is that we have a number of guys that can do both well and that's a big plus to have," Thibodeau explained. "I've said this all along: I think we have the right guys. We have a team that's comprised of all team-first guys. All have sacrificed something for our team and the one thing that they've shown is that they're all going to do what's best for the team first, even at the expense of maybe it's not necessarily best for their own individual game, but if it's best for our team, they're willing to do that, so it says a lot about them."

That can't be denied, but while Thibodeau's decision to sit Rose, particularly in a high-profile showdown with the rival Heat and while controversy brews about his lack of a contract extension -- if the decision backfired, it certainly wouldn't have helped his case, but like any good poker player, or even a mad scientist, Thibodeau didn't blink, believing in himself and his team -- is likely a lightning rod for debate amongst both fans and media, it was the right move in theory and practice. Perhaps Watson, Thursday's hero, summed it up best: "Our teammates, we all support each other, whether it's good or bad and that's the good thing about our team...That's why we're so successful."

That's the reason Bulls fans were camping out outside the United Center in Friday's early-morning hours, following the exhilarating win Thursday, to buy playoff tickets as soon as they went on sale later that morning. Because they, like the team itself, know that there's something special happening on Madison St. and whether Rose or any other player is healthy or on the court at any given time, there's always a chance, due to Thibodeau's unbending philosophy, which once again proved itself to be true, in the most unthinkable fashion.

Week 5 Big Ten previews: Michigan meets Badgers in top-10 showdown

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Week 5 Big Ten previews: Michigan meets Badgers in top-10 showdown

Another week, another titanic Big Ten showdown featuring the Wisconsin Badgers.

Now up to the eighth-ranked team in the country following their dominating performance in a big win over Michigan State, the Badgers make another trip to the Great Lakes State this weekend for another battle with a top-10 team. Jim Harbaugh's Michigan Wolverines await, and though their schedule hasn't been as tough as many, they're playing as well as any team in the country right now on both sides of the ball.

It's another much-anticipated bout. But will it live up to the hype?

Here's a look at the entire Week 5 slate in the Big Ten. All games are on Saturday, Oct. 1, and as always all times are Central.

Northwestern at Iowa, 11 a.m., ESPN U

It's clear Iowa has yet to get back on track after that Week 3 loss to North Dakota State. Last weekend's win against Rutgers was an ugly one short on scoring and won thanks mostly to a fourth-quarter fumble that swung momentum and set up the game-winning score for the Hawkeyes. Iowa has to find away to get its offense cooking again after getting out-gained last week and mustering just 355 yards of offense. And that was against Rutgers. It'll be even more challenging now that No. 1 wide receiver Matt VandeBerg is sidelined for the foreseeable future. And on the defensive side of the ball, the Hawkeyes need to find a way to slow the run. They allowed 193 rush yards to Rutgers after allowing 239 to North Dakota State — and Northwestern has one of the Big Ten's best backs in Justin Jackson.

Northwestern, meanwhile, takes a trip to always-imposing Kinnick Stadium at a bad time. Just 1-3 through the season's first four games, the Cats are making mistakes left and right. Gifted two goal-line fumbles in last weekend's game against Nebraska, Northwestern couldn't do anything with them and lost by double digits. But that was just one of many screw-ups, with missed kicks, penalties, turnovers and a defense that was shredded for 556 yards shouldering plenty of the blame, too. Pat Fitzgerald vowed to get things fixed. We'll see how much progress he's made in just one week.

Rutgers at No. 2 Ohio State, 11 a.m., Big Ten Network

The Buckeyes finally get to open conference play following a bye week last weekend. Ohio State has looked as good as any team in the nation, and that No. 2 ranking is a good indication of that. J.T. Barrett, Curtis Samuel, Mike Weber and now Noah Brown — who you might remember had four touchdown catches against Oklahoma — form one dangerous offensive unit. But it's that defense, currently coordinated by former Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano and formerly coordinated by current Rutgers head coach Chris Ash, that's making the biggest impression, ranked ninth and 14th in the country in scoring defense and total defense, respectively.

Rutgers will have to figure out how to do something against that tremendous defense, and that is made much, much harder without Janarion Grant. The Knights' top playmaker was knocked out for the season after suffering an injury last weekend against Iowa. Grant took a pass and ran 77 yards inside the Hawkeyes' five-yard line, but that was the last explosive play he made in the game and the last one he'll make this season. The offensive cabinet isn't completely bare, however. Robert Martin is currently the Big Ten's leading rusher with 358 yards in three games.

Purdue at Maryland, 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

It's been quite the start for DJ Durkin at Maryland, and though his undefeated season probably won't last too deep into Big Ten play, it certainly could last past this weekend with lowly Purdue on the schedule. The Terps have quietly been one of the country's best running teams through the season's first four weeks, racking up 800 yards in three games for a 266.7-yards-per-game average that ranks 11th in the FBS. A fleet of running backs has been getting the job done, with no member of what's being described as a "five-headed monster" ranking in the top 10 in rushing in the conference.

That's not great news for the Boilermakers, who rank next to last in the Big Ten in total defense, allowing an average of 387.7 total yards each week. But there is the slightest bit of momentum in West Lafayette after last weekend's win over Nevada, Darrell Hazell's second win over a non-conference FBS opponent in 11 tries as Purdue head coach. And thankfully for the Boilers, they have a potent rushing weapon of their own. Markell Jones had just 47 yards in a loss to Cincinnati, but his 105.3 rush yards per game rank third in the Big Ten.

No. 8 Wisconsin at No. 4 Michigan, 2:30 p.m., ABC

The Badgers are banged up heading into this weekend's biggest game, there's no doubt about that. Already down linebacker Chris Orr for the season, Wisconsin this week announced that kicker Rafael Gaglianone will also miss the remainder of the campaign, and a Thursday report indicated star linebacker Vince Biegel will miss this game and some more following foot surgery. That being said, the Badgers' defense has been absolutely terrific through four games, all wins, two of which came against top-10 teams. After keeping Michigan State out of the end zone last weekend and holding the Spartans to just 75 rushing yards, Wisconsin ranks seventh in the country in scoring defense (11.8 points a game) and 12th in total defense (277 yards a game). The Badgers intercepted quarterback Tyler O'Connor three times and scored on a 66-yard fumble-return touchdown.

Thing is, Michigan's offense has been sensational so far this season. The competition hasn't been, necessarily, but that hasn't stopped quarterback Wilton Speight, an elite corps of pass-catchers and a seemingly unending stream of ball-carriers from piling up 208 points on 1,871 yards in four blowout wins. The Wolverines rank fourth in the country in scoring offense after last weekend's 49-10 pasting of Penn State. Five different running backs combined for six rushing touchdowns in that one, while Speight has nine touchdowns on the season.

Wisconsin has its own noteworthy quarterback after Alex Hornibrook impressed in his first career start against Michigan State. His stat line wasn't outrageous, but he made some mighty impressive plays, dropping passes into his receivers' hands and threading numerous needles. He also led the Badgers to an excellent 9-for-18 mark on third and fourth downs. Teamed with receivers Jazz Peavy and Robert Wheelwright and tight end Troy Fumagalli, the Wisconsin passing attack might finally be something to be reckoned with along with the Badgers' usually dominant run game, this year featuring another star in Corey Clement, who's scored five touchdowns in the three games he's played.

Finally, though, that Michigan defense has been every bit as good as Wisconsin's. In fact, the Wolverines place even higher in the national rankings when it comes to total defense, ranking 12th with 269.8 yards allowed per game. They're not too shabby in scoring defense, either, not far behind the Badgers at No. 13 with 13.8 points surrendered per game. Last weekend's effort vs. Penn State was a smothering one, Michigan allowing just 10 points on 191 total yards, forcing a pair of turnovers and sacking quarterback Trace McSorley six times. With so many playmakers on that side of the ball for the Wolverines, you wonder if the Badgers will be able to keep up on the scoreboard.

Illinois at No. 15 Nebraska, 2:30 p.m., ESPN 2

The Huskers are coming off another win and vaulted into the top 15 thanks to their perfect 4-0 record. That record is expected to move to 5-0 when they welcome in Illinois on Saturday. Nebraska continued to light it up on offense in last weekend's win, two goal-line fumbles erasing 14 points against Northwestern that would've made the score far more indicative of the way the Huskers shredded the Wildcat defense. Tommy Armstrong's fused rushing and passing numbers looked like this vs. Northwestern: 378 yards and a touchdown. That's a week after he had five total touchdowns in the win over Oregon. Along with Ohio State's J.T. Barrett, Armstrong is the class of the position in the conference.

Meanwhile, the Illini haven't played in two weeks but still have the awful taste of that blowout loss to Western Michigan lingering. After throttling an FCS opponent in their first game of the season, the Illini have been outscored, 82-33, with the defense surrendering almost 900 combined yards of offense in two losses, both coming at home. Illinois gained a shocking three rushing yards — three! — against Western Michigan. With all that pressure on Wes Lunt, it'll be tough to navigate the challenging Nebraska secondary, which has nine interceptions on the season, one off the national lead.

Minnesota at Penn State, 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

The Gophers are flying pretty high, averaging nearly 40 points a game in their three wins. Now, wins over Oregon State, Indiana State and Colorado State do not a title contender make, but give plenty of credit to Minnesota's offense, which has looked more than just capable this season, it's been downright prolific. The Gophers are averaging 228.3 yards per game rushing, with just one Big Ten team scoring more rushing touchdowns, and that's Michigan, which scored six last weekend.

And who did those six rushing touchdowns come against? Penn State, making this week's matchup not a good one for the Nittany Lions. They looked just miserable against the Wolverines, and while the Gophers are not the Wolverines, they can provide similar challenges for a defense that has failed multiple times at stopping the run this season. Penn State was gashed for 341 rushing yards in a loss to Pitt and gave up 326 rushing yards in the loss to Michigan. It could be another headache of a day trying to slow the running back combo of Rodney Smith and Shannon Brook plus quarterback Mitch Leidner.

No. 17 Michigan State at Indiana, 7 p.m., Big Ten Network

If any team could use a blowout win, it's Michigan State, which still remains a bit of an unknown a week after getting dominated on both sides of the ball by Wisconsin. Thing is, a week earlier the Spartans looked terrific in a road win at Notre Dame. The Irish haven't helped Sparty's cause, losing to Duke last weekend, and Mark Dantonio's squad has a Jekyll-and-Hyde element to it through only three games. Best way to fix that? Beat Indiana. The Spartans' defense would be the key to that after Hoosiers quarterback Richard Lagow threw five interceptions last weekend, but can that unit play well down a pair of starting linebackers? Jon Reschke will miss this week and beyond, while Riley Bullough could still be out following his surprising sit-out last weekend.

Lagow, despite the turnovers, showed last weekend that Indiana's passing attack is still as explosive as ever, passing for a school-record 496 yards in the loss to Wake Forest. The problem there is "the loss to Wake Forest," and those five picks played a big role in it. Michigan State's defense is a good one, when healthy — which it isn't expected to be this weekend — but between Lagow and his new big-play connection in Nick Westbrook and a reliable running attack with Devin Redding out of the backfield, there's no reason the Hoosiers can't score some points in this one. And Spartans quarterback Tyler O'Connor pitched three interceptions against Wisconsin, good news for an Indiana defense that's played better this season than in seasons past.

Joe Maddon's custom Cubs Jeep is being raffled off for charity

Joe Maddon's custom Cubs Jeep is being raffled off for charity

Joe Maddon currently has a custom Cubs-themed Jeep 4x4 that has a number of baseball and Cubs themed alterations. One lucky Cubs fan will be able to win the car in a raffle to support charities.

The blue Jeep features a red grille, Rawlings branded seats, a bat for a gear shifter and a Sistine Chapel-style Cubs ceiling. Fields Chrysler Jeep Dodge RAM in Glenview donated the vehicle

To enter the raffle tickets can be purchased at Binny's Chicago stores, the Edgebrook Ace Hardware, the Misericordia Home and the Cubs offices on 3721 N. Clark St. during normal business hours. Each ticket will cost $100 and a maximum of 3,000 will be sold. The winning ticket will be drawn within 30 days of the Cubs' final postseason game. 

All the money goes to charity and Maddon and his wife, Jaye, will choose the charities to support.