It's time for Bulls to come together

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OKLAHOMA CITY — Coach Tom Thibodeau didn’t mince words after the Bulls’ 101-91 loss Friday to the Charlotte Hornets. There’s no longer enough time for that.

‘‘You’re heading down the stretch,’’ Thibodeau said after the Bulls blew a 19-point lead. ‘‘It’s going to come down to how badly you want something.

‘‘Every game, you’re playing for something. For some teams, you’re playing to get in. For some teams, it’s the seeding. If your house is not in order now, you’re in trouble.’’

As it stands going into their game Sunday against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Bulls’ house isn’t in order. Practice was canceled Saturday because there weren’t enough healthy players to participate. Instead, there was film, treatment and gym time for those healthy enough to get some shots up.

It seemed there was some good news entering the game against the Hornets. Center Joakim Noah (left knee) was back in the starting lineup after missing the previous game. But Noah didn’t look healthy, scoring only one point and grabbing six rebounds in 24 minutes.

The Bulls have 15 games before the playoffs start. According to Thibodeau, the statuses of guards Jimmy Butler (left elbow) and Derrick Rose (right knee) are still the great unknowns. But if the Bulls want to make a deep playoff run, they’ll need more than the injured players to get healthy and step up.

Here are five players who have to come up big in the next 15 games:

5. Nikola Mirotic

The rookie forward has put his name in the Rookie of the Year discussion, averaging 17 points and 7.4 rebounds in his last 10 games. But his struggles from three-point range (28 percent in March) have been noticeable. With backup big man Taj Gibson (left ankle) and Noah likely under minutes restrictions for the rest of the regular season, Mirotic must continue being a scoring threat, both from inside and out.

4. Tony Snell

Lost in the fact that Snell has scored in double figures in eight of his last 11 games is that he has taken over Butler’s role defensively. He needs to continue stepping up in that area.

3. Noah

When he plays with emotion, the Bulls can play with just about anybody. When he doesn’t, games such as the one Friday happen. Numbers are nice for Noah, but his emotion is necessary for the Bulls to succeed.

2. Butler

He guards and scores and, perhaps more important, has shown big-shot ability. The Bulls lack that right now. Aaron Brooks only can play hero for so long.

1. Rose

It always comes back to him, doesn’t it? Rose is the only Bulls player who — when healthy — can trump an opponent’s game plan. As one teammate said this week, ‘‘He’s that guy that just knows how to close the game.’’ The Bulls are 4-6 since Rose went down with his latest knee injury. That’s no coincidence.


Twitter: @suntimes_hoops

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