He's said it before, but Tom Thibodeau reiterated Friday night before the Bulls' matchup against the Bucks that potential playoff seeding isn't at the forefront of his worries as the regular season winds down.
The Bulls are currently tied for third in the East with the Toronto Raptors, and the difference between earning that No. 3 seed outright or settling for the No. 4 seed could be the difference between playing the surging Brooklyn Nets in the first round and then having to deal with the Miami Heat after that.
But for Thibodeau, the NBA is too talented and the parity too great for teams to worry about whether winning or losing a single game will somehow have an effect on their playoff seeding.
"I think teams are so close together, you don’t know how it can unfold. What you do concentrate on is playing well, just lock into that and then let the chips fall where they may," he said. "You’re not going to sneak around people. Once you get there, you’ve got to play well, and that’s all I want our guys locked into."
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The Bulls are 16-7 since the All-Star break and have won five of six, and if the playoffs began tomorrow they'd square off against the Nets, who are an NBA-best 30-12 since the calendar flipped to 2014. But as Thibodeau astutely pointed out, that's not the case.
"They don’t start tomorrow, so we’re not concerned with that. We’re concerned with tonight and our improvement and I think the important thing is to go step by step. Once you start looking ahead it takes you off of what you really need to concentrate on, and that’s your improvement," he said. "We understand where we are in the season, and obviously there are things we want to clean up to improve upon to make sure we’re playing our best at the end."
Given that the Bulls are a comfortable 2.5 games ahead of No. 5 Brooklyn at the moment with just seven games to play, there's a good chance they will be locked into their playoff positioning with one or two games remaining. If that's the case Thibodeau says he may consider resting players who are "nicked up" -- Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler and Kirk Hinrich may be candidates -- but for now it's about improving as individuals and a team. That mindset is one thing that won't change.
"You cross that bridge when you get there. I think the important thing is to play as well as you can and as long as there’s something to play for, you should do that," he said. "In the end, if it makes sense and someone’s nicked up and rest is important, you do that. But I don’t want our guys thinking that way."