By virtue of Toronto’s loss to New York, with Friday night’s 106-98 comeback win over the Pistons at the United Center, the Bulls are now in possession of third place in the Eastern Conference with just three games remaining in the regular season.
At the moment, the East’s third seed would be slated to play Washington in a first-round playoff series, though the Bobcats are still dueling with the Wizards for sixth place. And of course, the Bulls must finish strong to maintain their current positioning, starting with Sunday’s road game at New York, which is battling to keep its hopes of seizing the eighth seed from Atlanta alive.
“Well, it’s good, but we just stay humble. We understand that on any given night, you can probably just lose big, but we just worry about what’s in-house. We just worry about what’s going on in the locker room. We don’t really care or worry about what’s going on outside because you tend to get caught up in that and it can take away from basketball, take away from the game and right now, we just focus on basketball, making plays for each other, moving forward and getting better. That’s the only thing we’re focused on right now. Everything that’s going to come with success is going to come, but right now we remember how nobody was on our bandwagon at the beginning of the year, how that felt and we’re just believing in ourselves right now,” Taj Gibson said. “We’ve still got a couple more games left. Things can go any different way. We’ve still got to play some tough teams, got to go to New York, got to come back home and try to finish out strong. It’s all about who wants it more. Got to stay on the right path and got to play with a lot of tenacity.”
D.J. Augustin chimed in: “It’s big, but at the same time, we’re just taking it one game at a time. So we’re just taking it one game at a time, beating New York on Sunday and that’s our main focus right now.”
Joakim Noah looked at things from the perspective how far the Bulls have come in this roller-coaster of a season.
“It’s tripped out, man. But just taking it day by day, focus and for us, we’re just excited to go to the Garden. They’re playing for their playoff lives, we’re playing to hold on to that three [seed],” the All-Star center explained to CSNChicago.com. “Hostile environment, it’s going to get us ready for what’s coming. But we’re just enjoying every moment. We played resilient basketball tonight, and hopefully we step up and get a big win on Sunday.”
Gibson, like Noah, a native New Yorker, found it ironic that the Bulls have a crucial late-season affair in his hometown.
“It’s kind of nerve-wracking at the same time because you’re going against a team that’s fighting for their life, fighting for the last seed and you’re jockeying for position, as well. But that edge is just already shaky because Thibs already knows what kind of atmosphere it’s going to be, we know what kind of atmosphere it’s going to be,” the Sixth Man of the Year award candidate observed. “It’s going to be a dogfight. We’re looking forward to the challenge. That’s what kind of atmosphere it’s going to be in the playoffs, so we’re looking forward to it.”
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, a former Knicks assistant coach, unsurprisingly asserted that his team’s approach wouldn’t change with the evening’s developments.
“No, and I don’t want it to. I think the big thing is to continue to concentrate on improvement, get ready for New York. If you go step by step, everything takes care of itself. If you start looking ahead at other things, you get distracted. Now you’re not locked into your opponent,” the coach said. “I think we have a good understanding of what goes into winning and if you keep your eyes on that, and knowing you opponent well and putting the necessary work into winning, the results will be good.
"We didn’t shoot the ball particularly well. I thought we missed some wide-open threes to start and we can’t allow missed shots to take away from the intensity that’s necessary to win. We’ve got to continue to put the extra time into shooting. Guys have got to come in at night. They’ve got to work and everyone’s got to be comfortable.”