DEERFIELD, Ill.—The tough matchups keep coming for the Bulls during their ongoing six-game home stand.
After beginning the swing with a tough loss to Memphis last Friday, they bounced back with a big overtime win Sunday afternoon against Miami, followed by a disappointing defeat Tuesday night at the hands of San Antonio. Thursday evening won’t be any easier with Houston, which has quietly become one of the best teams in the Western Conference, at the United Center.
“You’re going to be tested so we know how good Houston is. We’re going to have to make our corrections quickly and be ready for the start of the game,” Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said after Wednesday afternoon’s practice at the Berto Center. “I think they’re playing great. They’ve gotten better as the season has gone along, there’s nothing that they don’t have. I think [Patrick] Beverley gives them pressure on the ball, [Jeremy] Lin has done a great job off the bench, [James] Harden is an elite, superstar player in the league, [Chandler] Parsons is very, very talented. He’s one of those guys that probably doesn’t get all the attention he deserves, but you can put him right up there at the top. He sprints, runs the floor, shoots the three, makes plays, moves well without the ball, he’s tough. And then Terrence Jones has done a great job for them at the four, so they have a lot of weapons.”
“When you look at those top teams, it’s going to come down to who is playing the best and who is the healthiest,” he continued, referring to the contenders in the West, which include the aforementioned Spurs and the final team the Bulls will play on the home stand, Oklahoma City. “There’s five, maybe even six, really good teams that are all going to be fighting for it.”
The Rockets also have perhaps the best center duo in the NBA with All-Star Dwight Howard and backup Omer Asik, the former Bulls reserve.
“Omer is a starter that’s coming off the bench. You’re not going to get much better than those two when you look at Howard and Omer,” Thibodeau said. “You’ve got two great defensive centers. You have that type of length, it can cover up for a lot of things.”
Thibodeau was also asked if he’d resort to intentionally fouling Howard, a historically poor free-throw shooter, if necessary.
“Well, he’s actually shooting his free throws a lot better,” the coach explained. “In certain situations, you may do it. It all depends on where you are in the game.”
After Tuesday’s poor showing, the Bulls are determined to put forth an improved effort and continue their strong recent play, regardless of the level of competition.
“I hope so. I really hope so. That would be good. Coming out with good effort and coming out with a win would be great,” All-Star center Joakim Noah said. “We play for Tom Thibodeau. He doesn’t let you exhale, ever. So right now, it was a tough one yesterday and move on, and hopefully have a better effort tomorrow.”
Thibodeau concurred: “Nothing is easy. You have to put the work into it, correct it, move forward, move on to the next game.”
Queried about whether Noah’s level of responsibility and corresponding minutes for the Bulls could lead to fatigue, Thibodeau quipped, “Did he complain about it?
“One thing I can assure you, it will never be right. It’s either too many or not enough. He’s done a good job with it. I think he’s at a good number. We just wanted to make sure he could play hard on every possession. I think he’s in great shape, he did a really good job preparing himself for the season, and I like where he is right now. But he’s got to keep grinding. I think he can go to another level,” he continued. “I think you train yourself for that. That’s the nature of this league. If you want to do something special I think you have to commit to that. That’s building the right habits throughout the season. The teams that achieve in this league are able to sustain their concentration level and their effort level over a long period of time. Hopefully, we’re building the right habits so we can do that.”
Taj Gibson had perhaps the worst game of his stellar season against the Spurs, scoring one point and even missing a fast-break dunk. The sixth man, who’s getting over the flu, vowed to respond against Houston.
“I was just frustrated. That was the cap to my night. Just working, trying to get to the basket, trying to attack the basket hard. Even when you attack it hard, it still doesn’t want to give you that respect. It’s just one of those nights I want to forget,” he said. “Still just trying to get my rhythm back. Just trying to get in the swing of things. No excuses. I’ve never been an excuse kind of person. I’m going to play regardless of the situation and try to push through any situation I’ve been involved with. This is the next one. Just trying to get through playing with colds, playing with the flu, playing with injury. Like Thibs says, you’ve got to take it to the next level. Guys are not looking at you as a guy in the second tier. They’re looking at you as a primary scorer trying to stop you. We had a long talk yesterday about that. Just got to put things in perspective and keep pushing.”