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Tom Thibodeau continues saying, doing all the right things, even in Bulls loss

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Tom Thibodeau continued to try to make sure there were as few missteps as possible.

For the Bulls coach, that meant continuing to handle all the mandated minutes restrictions for his players, continuing to try to make sure they have home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, and definitely making sure that he doesn’t say the wrong thing so that management can point and say, “See, irreconcilable differences,’’ when the final game of the season is put to bed.

Then, if Bulls management really wants to make a case against its coach, good luck.

That was evident before the Bulls lost to the Pistons 107-91 on Saturday when the topic of Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy was brought up. Van Gundy, like the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich and the Clippers’ Doc Rivers, is not only coach, but basically general manager and vice president of basketball operations.

Thibodeau was asked if that was a culture he would embrace, and he quickly showed that his players weren’t the only ones that were capable of playing some defense.

“I’m not getting wrapped up in any of that stuff,’’ Thibodeau said. “Everybody’s different. You just do what you feel is best for yourself.

“I’m happy right where I am. For those guys, they did what they feel is best for themselves. I’m happy for them. That’s the way I look at it.’’

That doesn’t mean that Thibodeau feels it’s not a good situation for a coach to be in.

“Well, every situation is different, and it has worked,’’ Thibodeau said. “When you look at like Popovich has done it, Flip Saunders has done it, there’s been a lot people that have done it.’’

The way Thibodeau sees it, there are much bigger concerns for him and his players, starting with watching a 19-point lead with seven minutes left in the third quarter disappear, as Detroit outscored them 54-19 from that point on.

“We definitely blew it,’’ big man Joakim Noah said after the loss. “It was just a lot of sloppy play, turnovers. We didn’t play smart basketball. We were tired. But when you’re tired like that, you have to be smart. We were missing layups. I gotta play better.

“No excuses. We’re disappointed. We feel that’s a game we should’ve had. We let an important one slip away.’’

That’s why the Bulls (42-29) found themselves back in the
No. 4 spot of the Eastern Conference playoff seedings less than 24 hours after they claimed the No. 3 spot by beating Toronto.

“They keep coming and they’re coming fast, but we’re heading down the stretch here,’’ Thibodeau said of the loss. “So we have to have our stuff in order.’’

Order might be coming.

Taj Gibson already returned from his ankle injury Friday night, while more help is on the way with Jimmy Butler (left elbow) set for a possible Monday return against Charlotte. Then there’s Derrick Rose (right knee), who continued his comeback from Feb. 27 surgery.

“He’s doing just about everything now except the contact,’’ Thibodeau said. “He still has a ways to go, but he’s doing well overall.

“You just take it as it comes. We’re just glad that he’s moving along at a good pace, and hopefully he’ll be back.’’

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com
Twitter: @suntimes_hoops