The Bulls are struggling. They’ve drifted away from what made them the prohibitive Eastern Conference favorite less than three weeks ago, and it’s gotten to the point where their general manager has to say chatter about their coach’s job security is “not a story.”
Oh, and to add to that they play the defending-champion Spurs tonight at the United Center. Bad timing? Well, more like irrelevant timing for Tom Thibodeau.
“It doesn’t matter who you’re playing. The challenge is really yourself,” Thibodeau said at Thursday’s shootaround. “To come out, be ready, play well, keep improving and for us we know we’ve got to play a lot better. The Spurs are a great team and they’ll be a great team after that. Every team in this league is capable of beating you, so I think readiness to play is huge.”
Readiness hasn’t exactly been a Bulls strength these days. They were routed 108-94 on Monday in Cleveland and have dropped six of eight and have allowed at least 103 points in their last five.
Their struggles led to a team meeting and have become something of a national story. Not that long ago the Spurs were having problems, losing six of seven in late December but didn’t lead to the furor the Bulls’ slump did.
Thibodeau sort of explained the different reactions.
“I don’t really know but that’s sort of the nature of the league,” he said. “You’re going to go through ups and downs through the course of the season and it’s how you navigate through those things. The important thing is to be mentally tough through adversity, concentrate on the things that are important – and that’s our improvement – and play better. So if we do that and we do the right things we’ll be fine.”
Of course, there are other reasons the Bulls’ slump has led to what it has and San Antonio’s drifted quietly into the night. The Spurs have five rings, six conference titles and over 15 years of stability. They’ve also won four straight and six of seven.
The Bulls don’t have that. The two guys who figured to be their most important players – Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah – have been in recovery mode for most of the season and aren’t where the Bulls need them to be to win a championship.
But at least Rose’s minutes are expanding. He’s played at least 30 minutes in every game he’s appeared in this month, averaging 32.8 in January.
“I think the more he plays the better it’s going to be,” Thibodeau said. “I feel the same way about Joakim and so we’ve just got to keep moving forward. The important thing is how we can improve their performance and I think the more they play the better it’ll be.”
Thibodeau said Noah is out Thursday. Mike Dunleavy is a game-time decision.