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updated: 2/16/2011 4:30 PM

Big game with Spurs, but don't tell Thibs

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  • At age 33, San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili is having a great season. The Spurs come to the United Center on Thursday with the NBA's best record, 46-9.

      At age 33, San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili is having a great season. The Spurs come to the United Center on Thursday with the NBA's best record, 46-9.
    Associated Press

  • San Antonio Spurs' Tony Parker, center, and Tim Duncan are two of the reasons why the Spurs have the best record in the NBA. The Bulls host the Spurs on Thursday.

      San Antonio Spurs' Tony Parker, center, and Tim Duncan are two of the reasons why the Spurs have the best record in the NBA. The Bulls host the Spurs on Thursday.
    Associated Press

 
 

In Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau's world, at least the one he projects verbally, there are no highlighted games on the schedule.

The NBA regular season consists of 82 equally-important contests, and if the Bulls do anything but put their entire focus on the next one they're likely to stumble.

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"Every game's a measuring stick for us," Thibodeau said Wednesday at the Berto Center. "We want to be consistent with our approach."

To everyone else, Thursday's visit from the San Antonio Spurs is a big deal. It's the last game before the all-star break and a chance for the Bulls (37-16) to test themselves against the team with the league's best record.

Derrick Rose wasn't quite on the same page as his coach when told this game could be viewed as a Finals preview. Really, though, who could blame him?

"If they think that, that's great," Rose said. "I wouldn't mind that at all. It's a measuring stick for us to see how far we've come."

The Bulls are 24-4 at home this season -- only San Antonio is better -- but oddly enough, three of those losses were against New York, Charlotte and the Clippers. They've beaten NBA elites Boston, Miami, Orlando, Dallas, Oklahoma City and the Lakers at the United Center.

Given a second chance at the Bobcats, the Bulls won 106-94 on Tuesday behind 24 points from Luol Deng, along with 18 points and 13 assists by Rose.

"Every time we play hard, we can beat anyone," Deng said. "It's a big game (against the Spurs), not only because they're No. 1, but because it's the game before the break. It's one of those things where you lose and you have a bad taste in your mouth until you play again.

"It's been a great (first) half right now and we have to focus in on ending it right and make sure we don't pack our bags before that game."

Last year, the Spurs were the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference. Considering Tim Duncan is 34, Manu Ginobili is 33 and reserve big man Antonio McDyess is 37, it was easy to assume San Antonio's championship window had blown shut.

But the Spurs regrouped and changed their style slightly. Duncan became a smaller part of the offense. Ginobili and Parker focused on attacking the basket, while lights-out 3-point shooters such as Matt Bonner, Steve Novak and undrafted rookie Gary Neal roamed the perimeter.

San Antonio's 46-9 record is ninth best in NBA history through 55 games and just 3 behind the record-setting pace of the 1995-96 Bulls, which they matched a year later.

"They're a well-balanced team," Thibodeau said. "When you look at the strength of their club, they still have the low-post threat in Duncan, which is vital. They have great rebounding with (DeJuan) Blair and McDyess. Then, of course, off the dribble with Parker and Ginobili."

It helps that the Spurs have had few injuries. Six of the top seven scorers haven't missed a game this season, while reserve guard George Hill has skipped just six.

Of course, coach Gregg Popovich is also working with a three-man nucleus that has won three NBA titles.

"They're not missing much," Thibodeau said. "They've been in a lot of big games. They've been in a lot of tight situations. They handle those things with a lot of poise."

When the Bulls visited San Antonio on Nov. 17, they were missing Carlos Boozer because of a broken hand. The Bulls jumped to a 17-point lead in the second quarter, then were outscored 37-12 in the third. The Spurs went on to win 103-94. Rose scored 33 points that night, hitting 15 of 27 shots from the field, but attempting just 1 free throw.

"Defensively, we've got to stay together," Rose said. "This is really going to have to be a 48-minute game."

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