NEW YORK-Even after Thursday night's thrilling win over Brooklyn at the Barclays Center, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau wouldn't bite when asked about the upcoming postseason, instead reverting to his standby response about his team playing their best basketball and getting healthy during the season's stretch run.
However, his players, who are conscious of the fact that the Nets could be a playoff opponent-currently, the two teams would face off in the first round, though the Hawks are right on the Bulls' heels for the fifth seed-have acknowledged the fact that despite their injury woes throughout the campaign, with eight regular-season games remaining, they have a chance to host a postseason series.
"Obviously we want to climb up. We've only got 13, 14 days left. We want to get as high as of a seed as we can, hopefully get home court. That's the goal and obviously, get healthy," Carlos Boozer said. "We feel like if we've got everybody out there, we've got a chance to do something special. But we've got to have everybody to do it."
Backup point guard Nate Robinson chimed in: "It would be good to have home-court advantage, but for us, we're just trying to get better each game that we play from the beginning of the season and leading to the playoffs. For us, guys are taking these games as practice and just trying to get better each day. That's something that Coach always harps on is just play your best basketball towards the end to the beginning of the playoffs, and hopefully we can do that."
The return of Derrick Rose still isn't completely ruled out, but more of a likelihood is the team welcoming back All-Star center Joakim Noah (plantar fasciitis in his right foot), shooting guard Marco Belinelli (abdominal strain), top reserve Taj Gibson (left-knee sprain) and even veteran Rip Hamilton (bulging disk in his back)-according to a source, Hamilton, who excelled for the Bulls in last year's playoff series against Philadelphia, could be targeting next week's showdown in Miami as a return date-to the lineup before the regular season concludes.
But if all, some or none of those players come back sooner than later, the Bulls will continue soldier on, and as they've been doing all season, counting on contributions from the entire roster to somehow manage.
"I think a lot of people count us out every time somebody goes down and we have guys who are hungry to play, and we like playing together and we just respond," All-Star Luol Deng told CSNChicago.com. "This year is so different. We're so worried about us-who's getting healthy, who's going to play-it's just about everybody getting healthy, being in a position to hopefully have home court and we play whoever we play."
Boozer added: "We know you guys don't believe in us, but we believe in each other. The funny thing is we've had some close games. The other night was close with the Wizards, Dallas was obviously a close game and for us, we just hope all this is building up to us winning close games in the playoffs because you know how the playoffs are. Very few games are blowouts, most games come down to one possession, two possessions at the end of games, so for us, we just hope that this just builds good habits to win those close games when we need to."
Relying on the media for motivation or not, by this point in the season, any team that has already clinched a postseason bid at least must have some sense of relief.
"A little bit. We've just got to focus on one game at a time, though," floor general Kirk Hinrich said. "We realize that we're in, but we want to get the best seed we can get and we've got a bunch of games here in a short period, so we've got to stay mentally tough, take care of ourselves and try to win as many of these as we can."
Veteran center Nazr Mohammed added: "I'd be lying to say we're not. We're not watching it, but at the same time, we would like to move up and have a chance at home-court advantage."
The Bulls' remaining schedule is somewhat favorable-games against the Knicks at the United Center and on the road against Miami stand out as the only contests against winning teams left-but as we've seen all season, this is a team capable of beating the best, and losing to the worst.
Conversely, their competition for the fourth and final team to get home-court advantage in the East-Atlanta and Brooklyn; Miami, New York and Central Division rival Indiana are virtual locks-aren't necessarily playing their best basketball at this juncture.
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While hosting a first-round series doesn't guarantee anything, after a year filled with such trials and tribulations, it would seemingly be a deserved reward for a team that hasn't made excuses while enduring repeated setbacks throughout the arduous process.