‘Tis the season for tanking as Bulls prepare for final run for seeding
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Taj Gibson has been around long enough to know what tanking looks like. And it isn’t just practiced by NBA basement dwellers.
‘‘Yeah, you’ve been around this league a long time like me, you can tell when teams are losing on purpose or trying to do the right things to help their cause,’’ the Bulls big man said. ‘‘We saw what Brooklyn did last year, so nobody is a stranger to it.’’
The Nets wanted an inexperienced Toronto Raptors team in the first round last April, despite the Raptors being a higher seed, and let’s just say they didn’t grind games out the last week of the regular season.
After eliminating the Raptors, the Nets got the Miami Heat, whom they believed they matched up well with. Then reality hit. LeBron James and the Heat won in five games. But the situation at least showed how the manipulation of playoff seedings could happen.
Except in Chicago, and except with coach Tom Thibodeau.
If the Bulls were to capture the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference, would they be concerned about a second-round showdown with the red-hot Cleveland Cavaliers?
‘‘I don’t look at it that way,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘I think you put as many things in your favor as you can. You don’t try to run around people. You have to go through people. Whoever you face, that’s who you face, and you go from there.’’
Bulls players embrace that philosophy.
‘‘With us, we just figure push for it,’’ Gibson said. ‘‘Thibs doesn’t believe in any of that. He believes in going for it, pushing for whatever you get. Try and get the highest seed possible, try and get home court, and then try and take care of business.’’
Business will pick up starting Wednesday night in Toronto. -Entering Tuesday, the Bulls (43-29) were just three percentage points behind the No. 3 seed Raptors, who were playing at Detroit.
If the Bulls stay in the No. 4 spot, that means a second consecutive postseason meeting with the Washington Wizards in the first round. The Wizards sent the Bulls home last April and have played them to a 2-2 series tie this season.
If the Bulls can jump the Raptors, it changes the outlook and sets the Bulls up to face the Milwaukee Bucks, whom they have dominated 3-0 this season with one game left next week in Milwaukee.
The Bucks would be a much easier first-round draw, not only on the court but in terms of travel. However, four-time NBA MVP James and the Cavs likely would await in the second round.
The good news for the Bulls is that the Raptors don’t seem to be pulling what the Nets did. At least not yet. Both teams have very easy roads the rest of the way out. The Raptors have 11 games left as of Wednesday, and only two of those are against teams .500 or better. The Bulls have 10 games left, facing only three teams .500 or better.
With Derrick Rose on schedule to return before the regular season ends, Thibodeau feels there’s no reason for positioning, especially when the feeling is a healthy roster will compete with any team out there.
‘‘That’s what you work all season for,’’ he said. ‘‘Usually it’s the team that is playing the best, has the best habits, and those are the teams that usually do well in the playoffs.’’