With the Atlanta Hawks choosing to rest their players in Tuesday night's loss to the Toronto Raptors, the Bulls are now tied with them for the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
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The Bulls need only to win tonight against Washington to secure the No. 5 seed and open the postseason on the road against the Brooklyn Nets. In holding the tiebreaker, a win would guarantee Chicago the fifth seed, regardless of what Atlanta does in its season finale against the New York Knicks, who will be without Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, Kenyon Martin and Amar’e Stoudemire.
“I just know we want to win this game,” Jimmy Butler said. “You want to win every game, but if it helps to play whoever, I feel like we can beat any team. It’s all about us playing our style of basketball.”
Now with a somewhat healthy and full roster, coach Tom Thibodeau just wants the team to be playing its best, regardless of the opponent.
“If you’re in the playoffs, you’re a very good team,” he said. “We know whether it’s Brooklyn or Indiana, we’re going to have to play well.”
While Atlanta is choosing to rest its players in preparation for the postseason, the Bulls want to establish some semblance of a rhythm as players like Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Richard Hamilton and Marco Belinelli are still working themselves back from injuries that have cost them games down the stretch.
Tom Thibodeau said Noah experienced some soreness in his right foot after returning from a four-game absence and playing 14 minutes in the Bulls win against Orlando on Monday. Both Noah and Gibson -– who also returned after missing seven games, scoring 12 points in 21 minutes -– felt better today and will both be in the lineup tonight. They will also still be on minutes limits.
“It’s trying to strike that balance of getting them some work without having the risk of injury,” Thibodeau said. “They’re not going to play extended minutes, but we’ll see where they are at. The main thing is they have to be healthy enough to play, so you wouldn’t clear them unless they were healthy enough to play. But also, it’s where you are [in the schedule]. They’re not playing starter’s minutes. Whatever they can give us, that’s what we want them to do.
“Jo and Taj gave us a big lift [Sunday in Orlando], just because of what they add to our team –- their size and their versatility is what makes them so unique. When teams go small, you can stay big and they guard multiple positions. It was good to have the quality depth up front. I think it helps your rebounding and offense also having another person to throw the ball to in the post. We like to have everybody.”
The team is also still holding out hope that Derrick Rose –- who is out for tonight’s game, which means he’ll miss the entire regular season after left knee surgery last May –- could make his return during the playoffs. It’s not only a slim possibility the team would welcome, it’s one the organization backs fully.
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“Whenever he’s ready, we’re going to welcome him back because obviously he adds a lot to the team,” Thibodeau said. “He’s the type of player that makes everyone better.
“It hasn’t changed from the start of the season. Our team has to get ready for whoever we’re playing; Derrick has to handle his rehab. If he can join us, great; if not, we’re going to make the most of our circumstances and we feel good about where we are. We’ve had an entire season to prepare ourselves and I like our chances if we have the group that played all season."
The Wizards have won two of their three meeting against the Bulls this season, but will be without Bradley Beal and Emeka Okafor.