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updated: 1/23/2011 10:36 PM

Thibodeau fits right in with Bears' defensive tradition

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  • Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau might be the city's best defensive coordinator since Buddy Ryan.

    Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau might be the city's best defensive coordinator since Buddy Ryan.


NFL championship Sunday seems an appropriate time to evoke the memory of a certain championship coach from the past.

In short, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau might be the city's best defensive coordinator since Buddy Ryan.

The job he has done with the Bulls is beyond impressive. Despite all the injuries, changing lineups and lack of an all-defensive team player on the roster, the Bulls have made a strong case to be the league's best defensive team.

Cleveland shot a paltry 32.1 percent from the field in Saturday's loss at the United Center, marking the sixth time in nine games a Bulls opponent has shot less than 40 percent.

The Bulls rank first in defensive field-goal percentage (.423), third in points allowed (92.3), fourth in opponents' 3-point percentage (.333), second in blocks per game (6.4) and third in total rebounds.

There is one ugly mark on their record that might need some attention. They're just 12th in steals.

So how are they doing this? There doesn't appear to be any real secret. The basic goals are to stop drives to the basket and challenge shots.

When Thibodeau talks about being a multiple-effort team, he means moving over to help defensively, then getting out to challenge a shot, then getting back to help rebound.

Another popular phrase is "finishing" the defense, which means staying solid for the entire 24 seconds and grabbing the defensive rebound to end the opposing possession.

The Bulls have barely practiced this month because of a busy game schedule. The count is three actual practices in addition to the game-day shootarounds.

Asked to describe the defensive drills during training camp, players talked about having to guard every player on the team. Thibodeau once said they try to work on closing out on shooters every day.

Individual improvement has been obvious, especially with Derrick Rose, who has learned to use his athleticism to hassle opposing guards. In the last eight games Rose has recorded 14 blocked shots.

The most impressive statistic is the Bulls' 30-14 record, which would far exceed preseason expectations even with a completely healthy lineup, let alone losing Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah for extended periods.

Maybe the best explanation for the defensive success is in the teachers. Thibodeau was regarded as a master defensive strategist when he was an assistant in Boston, Houston and New York.

Ron Adams was credited for helping turn around poor defenses with the Bulls under Scott Skiles and in Oklahoma City the past two years.

Now Thibodeau and Adams are on the same team and they're not easy to score against.

{Remember the fun:}

Sure, the LeBron James Cavaliers were easy to dislike because of their dancing and showboating, but the current state of the Cavs has been sad to watch. Saturday's loss was their 26th in the last 27 games.

Having covered the Bulls' 15- and 17-win teams in the early 2000s, there is no disputing the fact that there is no room for sympathy in the NBA. Being bad usually means never catching a break.

Those teams can play their hearts out, only to watch helplessly as calls go the other way, shots bounce off the rim and better players dominate the clutch situations.

Asked if they felt any sympathy for the Cavaliers' plight -- on top of the world one year, worst team in the league the next -- most Bulls were just happy not to be wearing those uniforms.

"I don't worry about that," said Carlos Boozer, who spent the first two years of his career with Cleveland. "We don't feel sorry for teams in the NBA. They'll be fine."

"That's the NBA," added Luol Deng. "I've been there. We went to the playoffs, then didn't make it. It happens. I'm sure they're fine."

Well, true, the paychecks are never going to bounce. There are worse things than losing basketball games.

"I went through kind of a stretch like that when I was with Philly," Kyle Korver said. "The whole Allen Iverson saga -- is he going to get traded? Then he got traded and we lost like 10, 12 games in a row.

"It is tough and a lot of it is confidence. You've just got to be mentally tough."