The Bulls hardly knew what to do with themselves Monday, the second of three straight days off. Other than the all-star break, it’s their longest layoff of the lockout-shortened season.
“It helps a lot,” Luol Deng said following practice at the Berto Center. “We’re getting as much rest as we can, taking care of the little injuries. It’s hard to do that when you have a day, then a game.”
An argument can be made that the Bulls have been more banged up than any of the league’s playoff contenders, considering Richard Hamilton has missed 38 games, Derrick Rose 26 and Deng 11.
On the other hand, the Bulls have everyone relatively healthy heading into the final two games of the regular season and can snag homecourt advantage for the entire playoffs with a pair of victories over Indiana and Cleveland.
Plenty of other teams have been less fortunate. Orlando lost Dwight Howard for the playoffs because of back surgery. Atlanta may not get center Al Horford back from a torn pectoral muscle.
Oklahoma City stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have been available for every game this season, but the Thunder might start the playoffs without super sub James Haden, who took a brutal elbow to the head from Lakers forward Metta World Peace on Sunday.
“We got hit hard early with our games,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I like where we are as far as the opportunity we’ve had to rest guys.”
Even though Deng leads the NBA by averaging 39.5 minutes per game, Thibodeau pointed out that the Bulls have no players among the leaders when it comes to total minutes played this season, thanks to all the injuries. Deng ranks 23rd in that category.
So while other contenders are resting players in droves, the Bulls will try to use their final regular-season contests as a playoff tuneup.
“I’d rather play than rest, to be honest,” Deng said. “You play all these games anyway, throughout the whole season. It’s a rhythm thing.”
“We need these two games,” Joakim Noah added. “Staying focused, trying to get better — that’s been our mindset all year. We’re not changing anything. It’s an exciting time of year.”
The Bulls won’t know their first-round opponent for a few more games.
Their list of first-round opponent possibilities was narrowed down to two — Philadelphia or New York — when the 76ers eliminated Milwaukee with Monday night’s victory over New Jersey.
The Knicks own the tiebreaker if New York and Philadelphia finish tied for seventh place.
It’s possible New York still could pass Orlando for sixth place, but the Magic would have to lose to Charlotte at home Wednesday.
Clinching homecourt in the East could happen as soon as Tuesday, if Miami loses at Boston. Even if the Heat win out, the Bulls need to win one of their final two games to clinch the No. 1 seed.
Thibodeau said Rose participated in most of Monday’s practice and is doing fine. Rose returned for Saturday’s win over Dallas after missing 16 of the previous 19 games with groin and ankle injuries.
Deng praised Rose’s subdued performance, which included 11 points, 8 assists and no dangerous drives to the basket.
“Derrick, a few years ago, he would have had a hard time being out there and knowing he’s got to hold back,” Deng said. “He’s matured so much. He still knows how to be effective even though he’s not 100 percent right now.
“I thought last game, even though you could tell he wasn’t attacking 100 percent, he was still running the offense, running the team, and I thought he did a great job doing it.”
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