Coming off their 3-3 Western Conference road trip and toeing the .500 mark for the season with two home games at the United Center this week before the NBA All-Star break, the Bulls return to Chicago from two weeks in warmer climates feeling optimistic.
Relatively healthy, save for Carlos Boozer’s strained left calf -- a freak pregame injury that shouldn’t keep the power forward out long -- roles are now set and the aftereffects of Derrick Rose’s season-ending injury and Luol Deng’s trade to Cleveland are now in the rear-view mirror. While it can’t be said that their remaining schedule is a breeze, with 18 of their 32 remaining games at home and half of their contests against teams with losing records, it’s safe to say that the Bulls see a light at the end of the tunnel after surviving the last road swing of more than two games left this season.
“We feel good, but we’ve got two tough games coming up at home and we don’t want to take a break. We want to go into the All-Star break with two good wins and keep this thing rolling,” backup point guard D.J. Augustin observed after Sunday’s win in Los Angeles, where they held off the Lakers at the Staples Center. “We feel like we let a couple go—Golden State, the New Orleans game. We felt like we could win every game on this road trip. But by finishing strong, we have a good momentum going into our next two games before All-Star break and it kind of was a good trip, since we finished like this.”
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Fellow reserve Taj Gibson chimed in: “We’re on a high. We feel like we’ve still got better basketball to play. We feel like we got a bum process with the amount of injuries, but you look at how we’ve been playing, we really dug ourselves out of a big hole and we look at our schedule now, we’ve just got to keep pushing and as long as our guys on our bench keep encouraging, keep learning from our mistakes, we feel like we’re going to have a big second half.
“It’s good because we wanted to come out and finish the trip off strong. We’re headed back to the East. The East is up and down. We’re just trying to find our rhythm. It’s all about the next man up. Trying to get guys healthy. It’s a long season. But we’ve been having good first quarters, good first halves and we’ll get it right,” the sixth man went on to say. “I thought it went well. I think we beat some of the better teams in the West. We kind of had some mishaps against some teams we felt we should have beat, but we’ve got to keep pushing, keep learning from our mistakes and we’re just happy we got some wins. It’s always positive. We’ve just got to keep working.”
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Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau isn’t the type to ever rest on his laurels, so he made it clear that although the Bulls have managed to stay afloat in a season filled with adversity, there’s still a long way to go if the team is expected to fulfill internal expectations. Still, the coach was in a good enough mood—when asked about leaving All-Star center Joakim Noah in the game late with five fouls Sunday, he quipped, “He doesn’t have any control over that, although he is a lobbyist”—to positively reflect upon the squad’s fortitude.
“I’m really proud of these guys for the way they have fought. I don’t want anyone to define who we are, other than us. I think there’s room for growth. I think we can do better, but I love the fighting spirit of our team and there’s no quit in them. Sometimes we’re disappointed when the result’s not what we would like, but you can always count on them to come back the next day with the necessary fight, the will, the determination to get things right and that’s all you can ask for,” Thibodeau said, before refocusing on the task at hand, Tuesday evening’s contest, in which his Bulls will host the Hawks. “Keep building, not feel too good about ourselves. We know how good Atlanta is, so get ready for that one.”