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updated: 4/10/2014 6:19 PM

Bulls probably don't need to rest starters

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  • While it's true that Jimmy Butler ranks third in the NBA in minutes played per game, he only ranks 47th in total minutes played for the season.

      While it's true that Jimmy Butler ranks third in the NBA in minutes played per game, he only ranks 47th in total minutes played for the season.
    Associated Press

  • Joakim Noah has played the most total minutes on the Bulls this season, ranking 21st in the NBA with 2,660.

      Joakim Noah has played the most total minutes on the Bulls this season, ranking 21st in the NBA with 2,660.
    Associated Press

 
 

The Indiana Pacers decided the best way to combat a recent slump was to rest all five starters against Milwaukee on Wednesday.

The Brooklyn Nets, a potential first-round playoff opponent of the Bulls, is just about locked into the No. 5 seed in the East and will probably start resting guys before the regular season ends next week.

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San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich has famously given his best players days off during the regular season, even drawing a fine from the league in 2012 for sending three of his stars home instead of playing a game at Miami.

So what should the Bulls do? Would resting players make any sense during the final four games of the regular season?

Here's an argument against resting players: The Bulls' success depends on ball movement and balanced scoring. They'll be better in the playoffs by staying sharp and keeping their top seven on the floor together.

Twice, the Bulls have gotten three-day breaks in recent weeks. The first time, they came back with maybe their worst performance of the new year, a 17-point home loss to Portland, which was playing its fourth game in five nights.

There was another three-day break before playing at Minnesota on Wednesday. The Bulls struggled in the first half of that one, but dominated late and pulled out a 102-87 victory over the Timberwolves, who had beaten San Antonio the night before and were missing several key players due to injury.

"I thought we started off the first half was a little sluggish for us," coach Tom Thibodeau said after the game. "The rebounding was poor. Our defense wasn't very good. The second half I thought things got a lot better."

If the Bulls had a guy like Brooklyn's Paul Pierce, an aging professional scorer who doesn't need much help from teammates to get his shots, it would be a different story. But they don't. Their oldest regulars are Mike Dunleavy (33), Kirk Hinrich (33) and Carlos Boozer (32).

Another question to consider is whether the Bulls need any rest. For all the grief Thibodeau gets about playing his guys heavy minutes -- and it does seem like no matter how big a lead in the fourth quarter, he won't empty the bench until the 1:30 mark -- the statistics don't support that reputation.

Jimmy Butler ranks third in the league in minutes per game (behind Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant) at 38.4. But early on, he also missed 15 games due to injuries.

In total minutes played, the highest-ranking Bull is Joakim Noah (21st at 2,660). Mike Dunleavy ranks 44th, Butler 47th, Taj Gibson 74th and everyone else is in the 100s.

Based on these numbers, the coach who plays his starters the longest is Portland's Terry Stotts. Three Blazers -- Nicholas Batum, Damien Lillard and Wesley Matthews -- rank in the top 16 in overall minutes played.

Thibodeau has also rarely practiced since January, outside of morning shootarounds. The Bulls took Thursday off after beating Minnesota.

This is what's at stake: The Bulls have just about locked up homecourt advantage in the first round. They can clinch no worse than the No. 4 seed by beating Detroit on Friday at the United Center.

But they also have a chance to beat out Toronto for the No. 3 seed. The Bulls and Raptors are currently even in the standings and Toronto would win a tiebreaker on the basis of being a division champion. So the Bulls' best hope for getting to third is to win their final four games and hope Toronto loses once, which may not happen. The Raptors finish with New York twice, Milwaukee and Detroit.

Getting the No. 3 seed would bring a less imposing first-round opponent, at least one paper. If the playoffs began Friday, Charlotte would be the No. 6 seed, having pulled even with Washington.

Staying at No. 4 would almost certainly mean a first-round rematch against Brooklyn. The Bulls (34-14) and Nets (33-14) have produced the best records in the East since Jan. 1. The Bulls seem to match up well against Brooklyn, but Charlotte or Washington would bring far less playoff experience.

Thibodeau has talked about his late-season plan: If there's a nagging injury that would improve with some rest, then they'll sit someone. Otherwise, expect the Bulls to try to win out and get to 50 wins.

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