“Never in my life,” Nazr Mohammed, now in his 16th NBA season, told CSNChicago.com. “Never, ever have I seen so many guys who work hard to stay injury-free, go down at the same time.
“This is crazy. I don’t even know what to say about it,” the 36-year-old went on to say. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Indeed, the Bulls might be uniquely prepared for this type of adversity after last season, but to follow up the stomach punch of Derrick Rose being lost for the entire campaign, with their subsequent slate of setbacks—Jimmy Butler missing nearly a month with turf toe, then injuring his right ankle in his fourth game back in the lineup Thursday night in Oklahoma City; Luol Deng’s lingering left Achilles’ injury; Kirk Hinrich’s ongoing back ailment—is almost unfathomable.
Sure, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau might repeat his seemingly endless supply of no-excuse clichés, but he even had to admit that his team’s frail state of health is mind-boggling.
“Not that I can recall,” the coach said, when asked if he could remember a similar situation in all of his years associated with the NBA. “But it’s part of it. I think that sometimes it goes against you. I don’t know what else to say.
“To me, they’re pros and as I told them today as I went back through our games on this trip—and we’re in a rough stretch right now, where there are a lot of games in a short amount of time—and when you start backing up the games, and you look at exactly what transpired and unfortunately, we couldn’t pull out some of those games, but we’re right there. So the challenge for us is not to accept what’s going on, but to keep fighting and to believe that, ‘Hey, we’re going to be getting these guys back at some point,’ and so, we’ve got to be grinding, finding ways, developing,” Thibodeau added. “We’ve got to find some other people and we’ve got to get them to step up. We’re short-handed. Our margin of error is small.”
Taj Gibson, playing through an injured right wrist himself, concurred: “It’s tough because these injuries that guys are having, they’re injuries that you’ve really got to rest them. But the thing about these guys, everybody on this team, guys just keep pushing through injury. Instead of just on any other team, guys probably would just sit out. But these guys are still pushing, pushing the limit. No matter how hard it hurts, they’re still going and it’s frustrating, but things like that are going to happen. So guys like Marquis [Teague] and our rooks are going to keep getting more reps, and get counted on more because we don’t know what else we can do, except keep playing hard.”
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Deng, dealing with his second recovery period after rushing back from the same injury after a four-game rest, added: “It’s tough. It’s one of those seasons. So far, it’s tough. I think we’ve just got to hang in there. We’ve just got to keep playing hard, just hang in there. We know what we’re capable of when everybody’s healthy and right now, it seems like nothing is going our way. But it’s a long season. A lot of things right now aren’t the way we want it to be. We’ve got to turn it around and keep going.”
Joakim Noah, however, remained defiant. While his teammates are resolute about pushing through their current fate, the All-Star center, in typical fashion, almost seemed that the endless injury-related questions were something of a personal challenge to the team.
“I don’t think we can do that,” Noah responded, when asked if the Bulls would ever reach a breaking point and finally give in. “I think that we’re in a situation right now where we’re losing games, but we still represent the Chicago Bulls. We still represent Chicago and Chicago’s a city that deals with a lot of adversity, and I think that we’re dealing with a lot of adversity. We’ve just got to go out there and fight. That’s the nature of this city.
“There’s just no other way. The games are going to keep coming. I think Snell is going to improve by this, he’s going to get an opportunity to play and I think guys are going to come back, and our time’s going to come and I think it’s going to be a hell of a year,” he continued. “We’ll be all right.”