Last season the Bulls and San Antonio tied for the NBA's best record, though neither team made it to the Finals.
This year the Spurs are back in the fight, battling Miami and others for the best overall record, while the Bulls are trying to survive without Derrick Rose.
In many ways, the Spurs are a perfect role model for the Bulls, right down to the last meeting between the teams.
San Antonio did the short-handed routine to perfection, winning at the United Center without Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. There was more than enough left in the locker room, obviously.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich took some heat early this season by choosing to rest his big three for a game in Miami. San Antonio nearly won that one, too.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has heard complaints about using his main guys too much, most recently from Joakim Noah himself. Thibodeau's answer is usually along the lines of, "old guys need rest; young guys can play."
Does Popovich heed that advice? He's working with Duncan (36), Ginobili (35) and Parker (30). Parker is the only player on the team averaging more than 30 minutes per game (33.0).
In minutes per game, Kawhi Leonard is next at 29.9 per contest, while Danny Green ranks second on the team in total minutes played at 1,619.
With the Bulls, it's really two guys taking on a heavy workload -- Luol Deng, 27, and Noah, who turned 28 last week. Deng leads the league in minutes per game at 39.1, while Noah is eighth (38.3).
In total minutes played, though, Deng is 16th and Noah 18th. Neither has missed many games but enough to drop in overall playing time.
The Bulls might well lead the league in guys playing 45 minutes or more. During short-handed moments, Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler and Nate Robinson have all been ironmen on a few nights.
After Deng and Noah, the Bulls' minutes distribution is similar to San Antonio. They have seven players who have logged between 1,000 and 1,800 minutes on the season.
As much as you can feel the exhaustion when Noah plays 45 minutes Thursday, then checks back in during the fourth quarter while the Bulls have a 19-point lead against Brooklyn two days later, Thibodeau's argument does stand up in the stats.
Rose's progress redefined:
Maybe this is the true final step in Derrick Rose's recovery from ACL surgery: He's now day to day, according to coach Tom Thibodeau.
Rose sat on the bench for the first time all season when the Bulls lost Sunday at Indiana.
"Day to day. So whenever he's ready, he's ready," Thibodeau told reporters in Texas, according to espn.com. "We just want him to continue to improve, focus on his rehab, and then when he's ready to go we'll all know. Everyone has to remain patient."
The return date remains unknown, but don't expect much advance notice. Rose's decision to play likely will be made the day of a game, and that could realistically occur any time.
"There's a lot of people that have to weigh in on it," Thibodeau said. "Obviously, (Rose) knows his body, and everyone's got to sign off on it."
In other news, Kirk Hinrich is a game-day decision with a sore foot, but he seems unlikely to play against the Spurs. Richard Hamilton (back spasms) didn't make the trip. Carlos Boozer missed Tuesday's practice attending to personal business but is expected to play against San Antonio.
The NBA officially announced the Bulls will play in the league's first exhibition game in Brazil. They'll face Washington on Oct. 12 in Rio de Janeiro. The Bulls last traveled overseas to play in London in 2009.
NBA leaders in minutes per game and total minutes played (through Monday's games)
Average minutes played
1. Luol Deng, Bulls 39.1
2. Kevin Durant, Thunder 38.7
2. Nicholas Batum, Blazers 38.7
4. LeBron James, Heat 38.6
5. Damian Lillard, Blazers 38.5
5. Jrue Holiday, 76ers 38.5
8. Joakim Noah, Bulls 38.3
Total minutes played
1. Kobe Bryant, Lakers 2289
2. Kevin Durant, Thunder 2286
3. DeMar DeRozan, Raptors 2273
4. Damian Lillard, Blazers 2272
5. James Harden, Rockets 2265
16. Luol Deng, Bulls 2141
18. Joakim Noah, Bulls 2147