DENVER — Arriving a full day ahead of their game Thursday night against the Nuggets, the Bulls held practice at a local suburban sports facility Wednesday afternoon.
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau was vague in his explanation of the team’s scheduling.
“When you’re going on a trip out West, I just like going out, getting settled, getting a chance to get into the gym,” the coach said. “I just like doing it.”
But Thibodeau was extremely specific about what he felt is necessary for the Bulls to be successful on their annual “Circus Trip,” which consists of four games in five nights against Western Conference teams, followed by a quick visit to Detroit. That philosophy entails not looking at it as an extended road swing, but taking it one game at a time.
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“The way we’ve always approached and we’re not going to change, we’re not looking at it as a long road trip. We’re looking at it as, ‘Get ready for Denver,’ and that’s why you want to establish a routine for preparation and you approach it the same way every game. So if you look at it that way, you prepare yourself the same way and you do the right things, the results will take care of themselves. So we’re just going to look at one game, get ourselves ready for Denver. We know how good they are. We’re going to have to be ready to go,” Thibodeau explained. “You have to concentrate on your improvement, so each game you analyze the things that you’re doing well and the things that you’re not doing as well as you would like, try to focus in on those areas to correct them and improve, and just put everything you have into each and every day. If you do that over the course of the season, you’ll continue to improve and then hopefully you’re playing your best down the stretch.
“To me, you’re going on the road, and you have to have a certain mentality and a certain mental toughness to win on the road. Whatever it is you’re facing, you can handle it if you prepare the right way,” he continued. “He have quality depth on our team, we have the right approach. Just do the right things. Don’t get wrapped up in anything that’s not important to help you win.”
His players seem to have bought into the coach’s way of thinking.
“We’ve got good feelings that we’re going to go out here and have a good trip. We’re staying positive,” Derrick Rose said. “Thank God we’ve been winning some games, so it’s helping with our confidence and I think we’re going to have a good trip.”
Joakim Noah chimed in: “Yeah, I think we’re deep and I think guys are ready to step up. We’re all going to step up and have a good road trip.”
Bulls don’t think altitude is a factor in Denver
If the Bulls do lose Thursday night, they won’t be able to blame it on Colorado’s high elevation. When asked about the Nuggets’ historically strong home record, Thibodeau downplayed Denver’s altitude—and corresponding fast-paced teams—as the reason why.
“I think they have a sterling record because they have a good team. I think that has more to do with it than altitude,” he said. “But you go on the road, you have to bring a certain mindset and a certain amount of toughness with you. Whatever the circumstances are, you’ve got to be ready to handle.”
Again, the Bulls players’ views are similar to their coach’s.
“I think it’s difficult to play because they’re a tough team matchup-wise, up and down,” Kirk Hinrich said. “I played against Colorado in college, in Boulder, too. It always seemed like the first couple minutes, you get that burn. It was fine after that.”
Rose echoed: “I haven’t really paid attention to it when I played there. I haven’t played there in like three years, though. I know that the first win is going to be tough, but after that, I think everybody should be fine.”
Talented Nuggets still finding their way
Under first-year head coach Brian Shaw, the Nuggets are off to a 4-6 start after losing swingman Andre Iguodala to free agency, scorer Danilo Gallinari to a torn ACL toward the end of last season and former coach George Karl, who led the squad to its best record in franchise history, as well as a first-round playoff exit. While Shaw said he plans to implement more a half-court style to the run-and-gun team, Denver is currently trying to get a hold of a solid rotation, as the roster is very talented, but has some players with duplicate skills—speedy point guard Ty Lawson, veteran floor general Andre Miller, smallish shooting guard Randy Foye and former Bulls fan favorite Nate Robinson in a crowded backcourt, with athletic big men Kenneth Faried, JaVale McGee and J.J. Hickson all competing for frontcourt minutes, just to name a few ongoing scenarios—as Shaw, a former NBA guard, adjusts to his new role.
“I think anytime a new coach comes in, there’s a little bit of an adjustment period and Brian’s a hell of a coach. George is a great coach, so you’ve got two guys who are both great coaches and as I said, this is a very talented team. It’s a very deep team, so we have to be ready. You’ve got to defend them in transition, you’ve got to defend them in the halfcourt. They have guys who can break you down off the dribble, they run the floor, they can hurt you with the second shot, the penetration can lead to second shots, so there’s a lot that you have to deal with,” Thibodeau said. “They’re playing a lot better. They’re still very potent, a high-scoring team. I think still going through a little bit of an adjustment, but they’re playing really well right now and their point-guard play is terrific. When you have guys like Ty Lawson and Andre Miller out there, I think it always makes your team tough. They have a guy like Nate coming off the bench, you’ve always got to be ready for him. They’ve got a lot of weapons. [Wilson] Chandler’s back, he gives them more options. They spread you out, he can play multiple positions, he’s a tough matchup. Faried, he’s a load. Hickson can out-quick you at the five. We’ve got to be ready for them. They’re deep. They’ve got great depth. When they go to their bench, there’s not a drop-off.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if the talented Nuggets, whom the Bulls beat in the preseason, were involved in a trade or two as the season goes on, but for the time being, they’re still a team that opponents respect.
“Yeah, no question. It’s always a tough game here. They play tough, high altitude, great crowd,” Noah said. “It’s a tough break losing Jimmy. No excuses, wish him a speedy recovery and it’s on us to hold it down.”
Robinson hosts former team
Noah, who was close to Robinson during the diminutive scorer’s lone season in Chicago, is looking forward to seeing the playoff hero, though he’s wary of his ability to take over games.
“He’s a hell of a competitor and I know he’s ready to play against the Bulls. Great teammate. I wish him nothing but the best, just not [Thursday],” Noah said. “We’re going to have to do a good job. If he gets hot, you’ve got to get the ball out of his hands. He can score, but when he gets hot, it’s something else.”