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updated: 12/19/2012 8:18 PM

Bulls' Thibodeau busy doing what he does

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  • Coach Tom Thibodeau talks things over with guard Marco Belinelli during the Bulls' victory over the Nets last weekend.

      Coach Tom Thibodeau talks things over with guard Marco Belinelli during the Bulls' victory over the Nets last weekend.
    Associated Press

 
 

Granted, this is a longshot, but maybe it's time for Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau to start tooting his own horn a little bit.

At the start of Bulls broadcasts, instead of the same old, "I'm coach Tom Thibodeau and here's my starting lineup," he could say, "I'll take any team, any amount of newcomers, and teach it how to play good defense."

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The numbers back it up. After that second-half collapse against Milwaukee on Nov. 26, the Bulls owned a 6-7 record and were allowing 93.4 points per game.

Since that night they've given up 86.7 points in the last 11 games and gone 8-3.

After beating Boston on Tuesday, the Bulls ranked second in the league in points allowed and second in defensive field-goal percentage.

"I'm really proud of the way we're playing," Joakim Noah said after posting his second triple-double of the season Tuesday against Boston.

"Everybody's happy right now. I feel like we're getting so much better as a team. Even against the elite teams in the NBA, I feel like we're competing against everybody."

This progression looks quite a bit like 2010, when Thibodeau first arrived at the Berto Center and took control of a roster with eight newcomers.

There was a rough start, some 100-point games and a 30-point home loss to Orlando. On Dec. 3 the Bulls were 9-8; the rest of the month they went 12-2.

"There were a lot of games we thought we should have won that we didn't," Carlos Boozer said Wednesday. "Honestly, we always feel like we can play better.

"If you hear how we talk, how we expect greatness all the time we'll continue to improve and get better and the wins will take care of themselves."

No one will mistake the Bulls for a title contender right now. They seemed overmatched against Oklahoma City, Memphis and the L.A. Clippers.

But they could have Derrick Rose back on the floor by Feb. 1, which raises hopes for the rest of the season considerably.

What's interesting about Thibodeau's system is once again he has taken poor individual defenders and created a strong team defense. Back in 2010, Boozer and Kyle Korver were the weak links.

This year's squad might be even worse when it comes to individual defense. Boozer is about the same, while Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli can struggle badly in certain matchups. And backup center Nazr Mohammed brings none of Omer Asik's intimidation.

There is a mix of strong defenders with Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah.

Still, this group is starting to get it done. Tough games are on tap this weekend at New York and Atlanta. For now, though, at 14-10 the Bulls are ahead of Brooklyn, Boston, Philadelphia and Indiana in the Eastern Conference standings.

"There hasn't been too many times this season where a team just blew us out," Noah said. "I think it happened just one time. We're just a work in progress, we keep getting better. Keep grinding, holding down the fort until Pooh (Rose) comes back."

mmcgraw@dailyherald.com

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