DEERFIELD, Ill. — Heading into Wednesday night’s showdown with Miami, winners of 27 consecutive games, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau didn’t reveal much about the state of his team’s walking wounded.
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“Let’s see: Kirk [Hinrich] is good, Jo[akim Noah's] feeling a little better, Marco [Belinelli's] a little better — that’s about it. Taj [Gibson] is good,” he said after Tuesday afternoon’s practice at the Berto Center, a spirited affair, featuring an extended one-on-one series that involved the likes of reserves Nazr Mohammed, rookie Marquis Teague, swingman Daequan Cook, forward Vladimir Radmanovic and 10-day contract signee Malcolm Thomas, as well as Derrick Rose. “Rip did a little bit more, but still not fully practicing. Derrick did everything.”
Starters Noah and Belinelli weren’t full participants and are game-time decisions against the Heat, according to Thibodeau.
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Regardless of their opponent, health continues to be an ongoing concern for the Bulls, who have a two-game winning streak after beating Indiana and Minnesota in a home-and-away back-to-back set of games over the weekend.
“We’re a pretty confident group and we’re well-coached. We’ve got hard workers, so we feel — even when no one else does — that we can beat anybody. We feel like injuries played a role,” said Mohammed, who started for Noah against the Timberwolves. “When we’re firing on all cylinders, we can beat any team in this league.”
Hinrich added: “It’s vital, no question. When we are healthy, we could be a formidable team in the playoffs.”
Speaking of Mohammed, the veteran played well in both of the Bulls’ wins, showing that he still has something left in the tank and even when Noah does return to the lineup, he can contribute.
“I feel pretty good. It’s always good to go out there and test yourself, and pass your tests that you put upon yourself, as far as being able to compete, when you haven’t been out there in a while,” he said. “I felt good about some of the things that I did out there on the court and it kind of kicked a little dust off me. But it was good to play, good to get the wins. That was the most important thing, because we’re in a situation where we need every win.”
Thibodeau, who had been reluctant to use the Chicago native earlier in the campaign, seemingly trusts him more now and isn’t hesitant to use him against even quick, athletic teams like the Heat, due to the veteran’s size and ability to deter opposing slashers at the rim.
“We’ve got a lot of versatility. We can go big, we can go small. Nazr’s shown that he’s a smart player,” Thibodeau explained. “He’ll play body-position defense, protect the rim. I think you’ve got to have size out there. That’s important against this team. Rebounding’s huge, can’t overlook that.”
As for Rose, while he took part in the competitive one-on-one session — and had his moments, though Radmanovic stole the show, seriously — it doesn’t appear as if a dramatic return will come about against Miami, one of the Bulls’ primary rivals.
“We just want him to do what’s best for himself, what’s best for his body, what’s best for his future. We don’t want him to come out here and just jump into it because of pressure from outside. This game is serious,” Mohammed said of his fellow South Side product. “He has to do the smart thing and listen to his body, and go out there when he’s ready.”
Still, the rare glimpse of the team, Thibodeau included, being so loose at this juncture of the schedule and with a marquee matchup on tap was refreshing to see.
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“We’re growing. At the beginning of the year, there were so many new guys — me being one of them — that you’re still feeling guys out. You know guys from afar, on other teams, but you don’t really know them,” Mohammed explained. “We’re getting to the point where you can say some personal things about a guy when you’re joking about him and he’s not taking it too personally — he knows it’s just a little ribbing — but we’re growing and we’re getting closer as a team.”