It really was the “Circus Trip’’ in more ways than one.
Tight hamstrings, gimpy left ankles, unable to play because of fatigue, ping pong tournaments, and then of course an attempted biting incident in Brooklyn, as Kevin Garnett tried attacking Joakim Noah’s hand as if it was a bucket of chum.
All that was missing was a clown car.
More importantly, however, it had a 4-3 winning record for the Bulls in what could have been a disastrous two weeks.
“You have to look at it in totality,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said of the annual extended road trip. “There’s obviously a lot of good things we’re doing, but also some things we can improve on. We don’t want to change our approach. If we’re doing the right things the rest will take care of itself.’’
With an asterisk on staying healthy.
Players that missed games during the journey across the West Coast and back to the East included Derrick Rose (hamstring, fatigue), Kirk Hinrich (ribs), Taj Gibson (left ankle), Joakim Noah (left knee) and Pau Gasol (left calf).
Yet, they return home with only Gibson still on the shelf.
They can thank their depth partially for that, but enough can’t be said about Jimmy Butler and his emergence as an elite two-guard throughout the Association.
Over the last 10 games, Butler has averaged 23.1 points per game, 5.5 rebounds, 1.4 steals, has locked down the opponents’ best scorer, while putting in 39.7 minutes a game.
“We hold him accountable,’’ Rose said of the new expectations now on Butler nightly. “We know how hard he works. He wants to play that way. However he wants to do it, whether it’s jump shots or driving to the lane or getting in the post, we’re going to find a way.’’
While Butler seems to have snuck up on the rest of the league, Rose also said that he wasn’t surprised by his emergence.
“Nah, I know how good he is and how hard he’s been preparing for this,’’ Rose said. “He has prepared for this since the offseason. It’s just paying off for him right now.’’
While Butler remained the driving force behind the success this season, Rose remained the focus. The trip couldn’t have started off any worse for the point guard, sidelined with a left hamstring the first three games, playing in Utah, but then tapping out the second half of the game in Denver because of “fatigue.’’
To Rose’s credit, he came back in Boston and then Brooklyn, played well, and for the first time this season finished back-to-back games on the schedule.
Baby steps, but steps.
“To me, it’s moving in the right direction,’’ Thibodeau said of Rose. “When you string some games together, you practice well, practices hard, he’s going to play well. It’s really that simple. And it’s time to go.
“We need our whole team. That’s the only way we’re going to build chemistry. We’ve got to work on conditioning, we’ve got to work on toughness, we’ve got to work on discipline. We’ve got to take care of those things. You can’t short-cut that.’’
A lesson that Rose finally seems to be understanding and grasping.
“Just trying to string some games together,’’ Rose said of what benefits came from the “Circus Trip.’’ “Try to get better every quarter. Have amnesia. Shot two air balls [Sunday in Brooklyn]. I think that’s the first ever. Just trying to take every positive out of the situation and really drive off it.’’