Thibodeau says Bulls' defense is coming on

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Pau Gasol blocks a shot by the Nuggets’ Timofey Mozgov on Thursday night at the United Center. | Paul Beaty/AP

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau made a mistake in assessing his team’s defense Friday.

That in itself was newsworthy.

Thibodeau was rattling off defensive numbers to show how the team was improving.

“We’re fourth in field-goal-percentage defense. I think that says something,” he said. “I think we’re fourth in rebounding margin. I think we’re first in three-pointers made against and first in three-pointers allowed. So I guess it’s OK. But we’re getting there.’’

When informed they actually were second in three-pointers made against at 6.1, Thibodeau said, “I stand corrected.’’

But the point is, despite allowing 98.5 points per game — the most in the Bulls’ four-plus seasons under Thibodeau — the defense is coming.

“You want to be able to count on your defense and your rebounding and keeping your turnovers down every night,’’ Thibodeau said. “If you do those things, you’re going to be in position to win. Some nights you’re going to shoot better than others. You should be able to win when you don’t shoot great. If we do that, we’re more than capable.’’

As for being 10th in points allowed, Thibodeau showed he can be a bit more forgiving than most believe.

“Points in general are up in the league,’’ Thibodeau said. “I think part of it is with the three-point shooting, teams are playing smaller. The field-goal percentage is important to me. The three-point defense is important to me. The rebound margin is important to me. Those are the things I think you have to look at. Are you containing the ball? You’re looking at 50-60 pick-and-rolls in a game. How many are defended well? Are you giving them the shot you want them to take?’’

And after some early-season growing pains in those departments, the Bulls have improved in the last month.

“You can’t work on everything every day, so you try to prioritize what you’re going to work on and correct them that way,’’ Thibodeau said. “We also do a lot of film session and try to analyze, whether we win or lose, what we did well and what we could’ve done better and try to make those corrections before it costs us a game.’’

Gone streaking

Forward Mike Dunleavy has played in every game since he signed as a free agent before last season, but that streak is in jeopardy.

He was held out of practice Friday because of a “jammed ankle’’ that cost him playing time in the victory Thursday against the Nuggets.

Thibodeau said Dunleavy would be re-evaluated before the game Saturday against the Celtics, but Dunleavy’s goal was clear.

“Gotta play them all,” he said. “That’s what you get paid for.’’

Defending the captain

Kirk Hinrich seems to be the new lightning rod for Bulls fans now that Carlos Boozer has moved on, but Thibodeau remained the guard’s biggest defender.

“To me, it’s what he does for our team that makes him so valuable,’’ Thibodeau said of Hinrich, who returned Thursday after missing five games with a bad hamstring. “His ability to make big shots late, fourth-quarter threes, you can’t overlook that.

“His ability to space the floor gives you another pick-and-roll player. And then his ability to guard multiple positions, you can’t overlook that either. You can play him with anyone. He just makes our team go. He’s a glue guy.’’


Twitter: @suntimes_hoops

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