Wake me when a Bulls game really matters

Updated 1/25/2012 10:51 PM

The Pacers say they came to Chicago to make a statement Wednesday night.

They know they were the only Central Division team to hand the Bulls a regular-season loss last year, and they spoke pregame about how close that first-round series was with the Bulls last spring -- despite the 4-1 result -- and how they belong on the court with the Bulls.


The Bulls certainly heard it, and they also remembered that series being closer than the score indicated.

But even with all their best intentions, and the victory the Pacers came here to get, it was just so much noise at the UC on Wednesday night before, during and after the Bulls' 95-90 loss to Indiana.

After all, if Brian Scalabrine was taking a wide-open 3 -- and missing -- with a chance to put the Bulls ahead in the final seconds, you know this wasn't a game of serious consequence.

Of course, it says something about your $75-million power forward that Tom Thibodeau had Scalabrine on the floor for a defensive possession because he doesn't trust Carlos Boozer, and Scalabrine wound up with the ball in his hands at the most important moment of the game.

It was nevertheless an entertaining and competitive game, something that hasn't been easy to say about any Bulls game of late, and the Pacers probably think they sent a message when they outscored the Bulls by 15 in the second half.

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But the reality is the Pacers already believed they could defeat the Bulls on a given night and the Bulls still know the Pacers can't beat them in a seven-game series.

Most noteworthy about this contest is it gives Thibodeau a chance to once again get his team's attention.

"In this league you get what you deserve,'' said an agitated Thibodeau after the game. "There was desperation in the fourth but that effort's got to be there from the start of the game."

The Bulls haven't had much reason to be ready, as four weeks into this absurd NBA schedule a grand total of five Eastern Conference teams -- besides the Bulls -- have winning records. One is Indiana, and thus the attempt by both squads to make Wednesday's contest something significant.

It was not.

It was not because it's not April and it's not the NBA playoffs, which is the next time the Bulls (16-4) or Pacers (12-5) will play a game that is significant.


Of course, that doesn't stop Derrick Rose from driving the lane and taking his life in his hands several times a game, and it doesn't stop Thibodeau from coaching every possession as though it's Game 7 of the NBA Finals.

If anything has come from the first month of the NBA season it's that Thibodeau ought to win coach of the year again.

The man is possessed by the need to coach and obsessed with the need to teach.

Even without the requisite practice time and games squeezed together like soggy pancakes, not to mention several serious injuries and a different lineup every game, Thibodeau has the Bulls playing terrific basketball.

He demands it from every player in every game, and he's not afraid to embarrass any player who doesn't show up with a determined effort and serious concentration.

"As soon as you start feeling good about yourself, you're gonna get knocked on your (butt)," Thibodeau said. "Getting ready to play is a big part of this league and we weren't ready to play. It starts with me. I have to get them ready to play."

It will be easier for Thibodeau on Friday against Milwaukee than it was Wednesday coming off a 16-3 start, but it just doesn't mean much.

It won't until the Bulls play postseason minutes against the Miami Heat and then Thibodeau won't have any trouble getting his players' attention.

Until then, it will be only a question of which team can get healthy before the games really count.

Yeah, like it or not, the real games are three months away.


Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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