Tom Thibodeau isn’t really concerned about peer reviews, but Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts all but put him on a pedestal Friday.
“From the outside looking in, Thibodeau has done a tremendous job of keeping the ship going in the same direction,’’ Stotts said when asked about the Bulls playing at a high level without Derrick Rose or Luol Deng. “They’ve established a culture here, and in some ways like San Antonio, the parts change, but they just keep going, doing what they do.’’
Before the showdown between the Blazers and Bulls at the United Center, the last time Stotts had seen Thibodeau’s group was in Portland on Nov. 22, the night Rose was lost for the season with a torn meniscus in his right knee.
“The other part is [Joakim] Noah has been incredible leadership-wise,’’ Stotts said. ‘‘From the outside looking in, his leadership has been tremendous. You see that on the floor, and he’s all about winning. The team seems to have rallied around that.’’
Thibodeau refuses to assess his own work.
“I don’t even think about it,’’ Thibodeau said. “As I said, whether it’s praise or criticism, it doesn’t matter. Again, it’s what we think. It’s what all our players think. It’s what the staff thinks. That’s all we care about.’’
For most of the season, the Eastern Conference has been a laughingstock, a two-team race with a bunch of also-rans.
Not so the last month. The Nets and Knicks have woken up, and the Bobcats, Raptors and Wizards all have held steady.
“When you’re looking at all the teams in the East, Brooklyn is playing well, Charlotte is playing well,’’ Thibodeau said. “Washington has played well. Atlanta has played well, then they got hit hard with injuries. When they have their team, they’re tough.
“New York is starting to come on. They had their winning streak. Everyone is capable in this league. You have to be ready for everybody. There are a lot of good teams in the East.’’
Of the Bulls’ 10 remaining games, only four are at the United Center. The bigger concern is making sure the first round of the playoffs starts at the UC.
“You want to try to put as many things in your favor as you can,’’ Thibodeau said of earning home-court advantage for a playoff series. “It doesn’t guarantee anything, but the concentration has to be on daily improvement, and if you can do that along the way, great. But whatever your circumstances are, you have to make the best of those.’’
The Bulls are only 17-18 on the road.
“This is where we want to be for the playoffs — at the United Center,’’ Noah said. “We’re a confident group right now; we’ve beaten some pretty good teams.’’