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Bulls 'struggle' along at 4-1

It hasn’t sounded like a 4-1 team.

“We’ve been dodging bullets,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau commented, following the latest Bulls win on Wednesday.

Thibodeau was talking about his squad once again losing the rebound battle, this time to Milwaukee. However, he could have been talking about any number of concerns with this team.

“We haven’t even done it yet,’’ guard Derrick Rose said, when asked about him and his teammates clicking on all cylinders. “We’ve had games where we’ve played really good basketball, but defensively we haven’t done it.

“Offensively, we’re fine, we’re scoring a lot of points, but we know this year it’s all about defense, and that will hopefully get us to a championship.’’

Nitpicking?

Maybe, especially since the good this team has shown just five games into the season has far outweighed the bad.

Joakim Noah playing on one good knee and then battling flu-like symptoms, the daily Rose drama, losing the rebounding battle in four-straight games … yet, they will go into Philadelphia on Friday moving closer to full strength, as well as once again playing a very winnable game.

“Oh yeah, we just really learned from that Cleveland [loss],’’ forward Taj Gibson said. “We just learned from it.’’

That learning starts in the middle, as the returning core of Bulls players are starting to figure out how valuable the addition of Pau Gasol just might be.

“We practice hard, we challenge each other in practice, and I just feel like he’s really in a groove right now, he’s back to his old tricks, he’s motivated,’’ Gibson said of Gasol, and his practice battles with the two-time NBA champion. “That’s good for us. It’s a real good thing when you can just throw the ball down low and know you’re going to get something out of it, either a foul or a good shot to the basket.’’

In other words, the antithesis of the Carlos Boozer Era.

Not only is Gasol, along with Mike Dunleavy, one of only two starters to answer the bell for every game, but was averaging 18.8 points – second to Jimmy Butler’s 19.7 points per game – led the team with 10.6 rebounds per game, and has 2.60 blocks per contest.

And while it’s taken a bit of time to accept the Thibodeau way, at 34 years old, he’s been as good as advertised.

“For sure, it was re-energizing decision,’’ Gasol said of life away from the Los Angeles Lakers. “That was one of the main reasons why I made a change, to rejuvenate, to re-energize, to re-motivate myself and be in a position to win. I want to help a team be a contender for a championship.’’

Enough so that Gasol has even understood the heavy workload the last two games with Noah sidelined. Forty-one minutes clocked in on Tuesday, and another 36 Wednesday.

“Forty [minutes a game] is probably excessive on a consistent basis, but from 30-35 [a game] I’m OK with it,’’ Gasol said. “I think that’s something I actually kind of want myself, to be out there for that long.’’

As far as the 4-1 record, Gasol is obviously thrilled with it, but it comes with a warning.

“This league isn’t about five games, 10 games or 20 games,’’ Gasol said. “You have to do it consistently throughout a season. And not just when you feel great but when you’re banged up. It’s always good to start off well, but now you have to build on it and keep getting better.’’

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com

Twitter: @suntimes_hoops