One relative mystery on the Bulls' roster is power forward Toko Shengelia, who arrived from Brooklyn on Jan. 21 in the Marquis Teague trade.
Shengelia is a 6-foot-9, second-year pro, who is 22 years old from the Republic of Georgia. He hasn't played any meaningful minutes for the Bulls, which makes him an unknown commodity. So Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau provided some insight.
"We really like him," he said. "The one thing he's brought to our team is energy. Every day he comes in, he's got a great spirit about him. He works in practice, he's a great teammate, he's into the game. So he's a young guy still learning, but we're not going to overlook what he contributes to the team on a daily basis."
Shengelia can be animated on the bench during games, so he's learned quickly about how to get in an organization's good favor without playing in games. Thibodeau was asked if Shengelia is a long-term NBA player.
"You can't get here without having the talent to be here," Thibodeau said. "If he continues to work the way he's worked here, he'll continue to improve. When his opportunity comes, he's got to be ready and take advantage of it."
Stotts likes Bulls' culture:
The last time the Bulls played the Blazers, they lost 98-95 in Portland on Nov. 22 -- which was also the night Derrick Rose suffered torn cartilage in his right knee and was lost for the year.
Before Friday's game, Blazers coach Terry Stotts talked about what he's seen in the Bulls between then and now.
"From the outside looking in, I think coach (Tom) Thibodeau has done a tremendous job of keeping the ship going in the same direction," he said. "They've established a culture here, in some ways like San Antonio. The parts change, but they just keep going and doing what they do.
"The other part is (Joakim) Noah's been incredible. From the outside looking in, his leadership has been tremendous. He's a leader at both ends of the floor. He seems to be all about winning and it seems like their team has really rallied around that."
Ex-Illinois center benched:
With Portland acquiring Robin Lopez and Thomas Robinson, the playing time of former Illinois center Meyers Leonard has dropped considerably. Leonard averaged 17.5 minutes last year as a rookie, compared to 9.7 minutes this year with several DNPs.
"It's a very difficult position for young big men to adapt to the NBA, particularly at the defensive end," coach Terry Stotts said Friday. "He's made improvement. It just takes young big men a little while to make that next step."
Bulls and March Madness:
Friday's matchup between Connecticut and Iowa State featured a coaching battle between members of the 2001-02 Bulls -- Kevin Ollie for UConn and Fred Hoiberg at Iowa State. They weren't teammates for long. Ollie left for Indiana with Brad Miller and Ron Artest in the Jalen Rose trade. ... Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau claimed he didn't enter the team's NCAA Tournament contest. "I didn't get a chance to participate," he joked. "I was looking at that Quicken Loans one, though, and I think I would have won that."