“Intensity,” Carlos Boozer said, when asked to describe the difference between the NBA’s regular season and the playoffs. “Putting it on the line. You’re playing for a championship, so the intensity goes way up.
“I remember my first couple years going to the playoffs, it was real nerve-racking. It’s like Christmas: You can’t wait for tomorrow to come, so you don’t sleep a lot. You’re looking at the clock, seeing what time it is,” he went on to explain. “Now—I don’t know how many times I’ve been to the playoffs—but now going into it, do my normal routine. Get some food, hang out with the friends and family, watch a movie, sleep like a baby and wake up to get it going.”
Teammate D.J. Augustin agreed: “It’s different, man. It’s a different intensity.
“The crowd is into it, it’s harder to score. Everything is harder because guys know every play, every move. So it’s going to be intense. It’s going to be a lot of fun, but at the same time, we’re going to have to play hard,” he added. “I’ve been anxious the last couple days. So just getting that first minute in of the game, it’ll all go away. But it’s going to be hard to sleep tonight. It’s exciting and I’m ready to play.”
On the eve of their first-round series opener Sunday against Washington at the United Center, the Bulls are almost chomping at the bit to play the Wizards and it doesn’t hurt that they have home-court advantage.
“Oh, big time. You’re comfortable in your regular routine. You’ve got your fans. You’ve got the best fans in the NBA here in Chicago, so all that plays a part. That’s why you work so hard in the season to get home court,” Boozer explained. “Yeah, we’re prepared. We watched tape for an hour yesterday, an hour today. We’ll watch tape again tomorrow. We’re very prepared and the more prepared team, it helps you a lot. It lets you know what they’re going to get into, are they getting into it. Sometimes you can be quicker if you’re thinking about what they’re doing before they do it.”
But Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau insisted that simply being in Chicago doesn’t assure his team of success.
“The thing is, we have great support, but that’s not what wins for you. What wins for you is playing well. We’ve got to give our fans something to cheer about and we can’t lose sight of that. That’s the important thing. You don’t want to get wrapped up in all the outside stuff. You want to get wrapped up in knowing what you’re trying to do, how you’re trying to execute, knowing your opponent well, playing to your strengths, covering up your weaknesses, and I think if we’re playing hard and we’re making winning plays, our fans are very knowledgeable and very supportive. They’re going to respond to that,” the coach said. “This is what you work for. All season long, you have to go step by step. You can’t talk about the playoffs in January. You have to worry about the schedule then. This is the time of year, these games, it’s how well you prepare, how well you’re playing and executing. Oftentimes, it comes down to one or two plays at the end. A mental mistake can send you home. If you love competition, this brings out the best in people.”
The Bulls have struggled with long layoffs between games this season, Thibodeau acknowledged, making it crucial to start the postseason with a bang after not playing since Wednesday's season finale in Charlotte.
"The big thing is their rhythm, which we talked about at the end of the season, you get used to playing. Usually it’s every other day. When that changes, it can knock you out of rhythm. Everyone is dealing with the same thing right now. I think it’s good to get a break. It gives you an opportunity to really know your opponent. You’re playing the same team over and over again. It worked out where we had played them at the end of the season so it was good preparation for what we have now. That’s the way you approach it. Whatever you’re dealing with--in some cases during the regular season, it’s four [games] in five [nights]--you maximize it. In this situation, it’s a break and then you start playing again. And then there’s another break. You just have to deal with it," he explained. "It was a good opportunity to get some good practice in, opportunity to study and know our opponent. Just keep moving forward. Prepare well. Clean up some execution things. We have to be sharp."