First, a rant:
I understand the mentality of Tom Thibodeau, asking the highest effort and commitment from his players. I, too, remember the days of Vinny Del Negro's rudderless ship, to say nothing of the Tim Floyd era. Most importantly, I remember the Scott Skiles era, specifically the intense burnout of his players.
I mention all of this for a simple reason: yesterday Thibodeau ran his players through an extended practice in an effort to correct the first half lulls that have plagued the Bulls over the last week plus. And as written here over that time, a correction seemed most necessary. In addition, Thibodeau has led the Bulls, with the help of Derrick Rose's leap, to 53 wins and a proable one-seed in the Eastern Conference. He has earned a fair amount of trust by doing so.
That said, it seems hard to defend an extended practice in March with four players banged up, including one, Joakim Noah, who may not play tonight as a result. The Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson reported Wednesday morning that Noah will be a game-time decision against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Indeed, Noah (sprained ankle), Luol Deng (thigh), Taj Gibson (toe) and C.J Watson (plantar fascitis) are all nursing relatively minor injuries. But if the Bulls' goal is a championship, it seems to follow that player health and stamina would be nearly as important as the correction of a few bad habits, especially when the Bulls' play one of the NBA's worst teams on Wednesday night.
Perhaps this is all just hand-wringing from a meager internet writer/blogger. One who has allowed the musings of a few pundits suggest that the Bulls won't succeed in the playoffs because they are a maximum effort team that lacks another gear for the postseason. But Thibodeau was the defensive architect of an aging Celtics team that went to the NBA finals twice in three years and won the Larry O'Brien trophy in 2008. It seems to follow that he might know a thing or two about pacing his roster for the ultimate goal, and if nothing else, deserves the short-term trust of Chicago Bulls fans.
All that said, I hope Noah sits tonight. It's March and his matchup is Darko Milicic.
The Timberwolves, once again, stink. Losers of seven straight games with an overall record of 17-57, the Wolves one bright spot has been the emergence of Kevin Love as the league's top rebounder. However even Love isn't a sure bet for tonight's game at the Target Center as he nurses a groin injury that threatened to end his season. He expects to play after missing his last three games.
One could point to Minnesota leading the league in rebounds as a positive statistic and that person would be right, but rebounds are readily available when your team is first in the league in shots attempted and 27th in field goal percentage. Add to that the NBA's worst defense and its most turnover prone offense, and Minnesota's record more or less explains itself. To see the misery the Wolves franchise has inflicted upon its fan base, look at posts like this and this on one of the best sports blogs in the business, Canis Hoopus.
When last the Bulls faced the T-Wolves, the December game was over halfway through the first quarter as Chicago cruised to a 29-point victory at the United Center.
Timberwolves To Watch For
The aforementioned Love truly is a pleasure to watch on the basketball court. An inferior athlete by NBA standards (which are quite lofty), Love leads the league in rebounds due to effort and an uncanny nose for the ball. Add to that a three-point stroke that some scouts have called the league's best and the best outlet passes seen in the league since Wes Unseld, and you have a franchise player. Michael Beasley, whom you may remember as the player selected after Derrick Rose in the 2008 draft, has found a home in Minnesota, averaging 19 points per game.
Bulls To Watch For
In December, the Bulls managed a balanced scoring effort, with Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, and Luol Deng combining for 57 points while Kyle Korver and Taj Gibson notched 12 points each. Boozer has a chance to regain his confidence tonight against Love, who for all the positives listed above, struggles athletically at the defensive end. If Noah sits out, expect a heavy dose of Kurt Thomas and Omer Asik as the Bulls will use their size to negate Minnesota's greatest strength: rebounding.
As the Miami Heat stunningly lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers last night, the Bulls remain two games above the field for the top seed in the East with only nine games to go. Now begins the careful balance of winning the remaining games while preparing physically and mentally for the playoff grind ahead.
The game begins at 7:00 CDT tonight at the Target Center. Comcast SportsNet has the call.