Bulls feeling pumped at the break
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The Bulls' Joakim Noah, right, is heading to New Orleans for his second All-Star Game appearance Sunday, while teammate Taj Gibson is planning a weekend staycation.
Inside the locker room, after Thursday's 92-76 victory over Brooklyn, the Bulls continued to play up their image as blue-collar millionaires.
Taj Gibson told everyone he was going nowhere for the all-star break. His logic made sense: If he spent three days in, say, the Turks and Caicos, it would be depressing to have to get on a plane and fly back to frigid Chicago.
"To win games, you have to sacrifice certain things. You've got to hear Thibs' mouth (during the break)," Gibson joked, referring to Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. "You've got to hear him yelling. You don't want to come from something beautiful. I don't want to tease myself. Plus you have to get back on the flight. I hate flying. Our (team) plane is already scary. I don't know. I just can't do that."
Before heading out on break, Jimmy Butler hitched up his cowboy boots and promised to keep tabs on the Bulls' lone all-star representative, Joakim Noah.
"I'm going to be bugging the heck out of Jo," Butler said. "I'll be calling him every day and I mean that. Other than that, I'm going to be home with my family (in Houston)."
Noah didn't spell everything out, but made it clear that while he's looking forward to his second all-star game appearance Sunday in New Orleans, he's not thrilled about sharing a locker room with rivals like LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Roy Hibbert, etc.
"It's going to be weird, awkward and fun, all at the same time," Noah said. "You know, just the locker room, is always ... not my favorite part."
Awkward locker positioning or staycations aside, the Bulls have plenty of reasons to be pumped heading into the break. Despite losing Derrick Rose to another season-ending knee injury and trading Luol Deng to Cleveland, the Bulls are 27-25 overall and have gone 15-7 since Jan. 1.
The Eastern Conference may be weak, but the Bulls will return from the break with a showdown for third place at Toronto on Wednesday.
"We're happy. We're not satisfied. We're hungry," Noah said. "I think there's a lot more to be done, so it's exciting."
The Bulls' strong surge raised an interesting question: Even with so many personnel losses, could the Bulls end up with a better record than last year's 45-37 mark?
And how is that even possible, without Deng, Nate Robinson or Marco Belinelli, along with a Rose comeback that lasted just 10 games?
Well, this year's two primary additions, point guard D.J. Augustin and forward Mike Dunleavy, have been just as effective as some of Thibodeau's past role players. The fact that Augustin was waived by Toronto in December just adds to the intrigue.
Deng was averaging a career-high 19 points this season and has always been one of the team's best defenders. The Bulls have been able to replace those points collectively.
Since Jan. 1, Noah is averaging 13.5 points and 13.5 rebounds, Gibson is at 14.2 points and 7 rebounds, with Carlos Boozer at 15.1 points and 8.6 rebounds. Augustin is the team's leading scorer in that time frame at 15.3 ppg.
Balance and defense can win plenty of games in the East, but there have been several times when the Bulls have seemed overmatched against Western Conference opponents and there are still 10 of those left on the schedule.
Obviously, one key injury could spoil this nice run, because the Bulls are essentially going seven deep, with spot minutes for Tony Snell and Nazr Mohammed. The Bulls could survive minor injuries to some guys, losing Noah, Gibson, Butler or Augustin could ruin the season in a hurry.
Then again, maybe the Bulls are overdue for some good luck with injuries.
"I'm not satisfied, I'm sure none of us our satisfied," Noah said. "I think you look at the progress of guys like Jimmy, guys like Taj, our whole team. I feel like we're just getting better. That's the best part about it. We're enjoying the grind. I like our mindset going into every game, there's a toughness about us and I'm proud to be a part of that."
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