NEW ORLEANSTom Thibodeaus comparison of the 4-21 Hornets to the Bill Russell-era Celtics dynasty aside -- unless its just lip service -- the Bulls are preparing for Wednesdays opponent as if theyre as good as any team theyve faced on their current nine-game road trip, which has already featured foes as varied as the title-contending Heat and upstart 76ers to lowly New Jersey and Washington. Although league-owned New Orleans is banged up and mostly devoid of top-quality talent -- their one potential star, shooting guard Eric Gordon, is sidelined -- Chicago understands that in order for it to reach its championship potential, at least under Thibodeaus hard-charging style, they have to treat the Hornets as if theyre an elite team.
Hell no, said Derrick Rose, when asked if he would consider taking off Wednesdays contest to rest his ailing back because of the quality of the Bulls opponent. We still know that weve still got to go out here and play this game. Theyre an NBA team. That means they have good players on their team ... got some people thats nicked up on their team, but they might come back -- so weve still got to go out here and play this game.
When Im on the court, I dont pace myself like that, he continued. If anything, when Im out there, Im trying to create or do something to lead us in the right direction to get that win and pacing yourself, I think Thibs wouldnt allow you to do that anyway.
Added Luol Deng: The Bulls' mindset really doesnt change because of the opponent. I think our mindsets got to be 'everyones back tonight.' Its been that kind of season. Whether its us or other teams, it gives somebody an opportunity to step up. Its the NBA, so youve got to come ready to play.
Even if the Bulls are up big on a team, such as in Mondays win over the Nets, their quest is to continue to keep pressure on the opposition or, in Thibodeaus terms, play 48 minutes of basketball.
Its something that we have to learn to do better. I think weve been coming out with great energy to start the games. Weve just got to keep that up, but it is a 48-minute game and weve just got to play better, I guess, Joakim Noah said after Mondays blowout victory. Every games going to be different. Basketballs a game of momentum, but were trying to control what we can control as best as possible. I think overall, our energys been pretty good. Youre not going to just have unbelievable starts all the time. Sometimes, shots arent falling, things like that, but at the same time, you have to come out with great focus and good energy. I think we did a pretty good job with that tonight.
Reserve sharpshooter Kyle Korver added: Well, its human nature, I suppose, to let up a little bit, but obviously were trying to play 48-minute games and Thibs preaches it every day, so its something weve got to get better at. But its a good problem to have, I suppose. But its something that weve got to keep working on.
Deng explained that, as of late -- whether he intended it or not, referring to his return to the lineup from torn ligaments in his left wrist last Saturday in Milwaukee -- the Bulls have been putting pressure on the opposition from early in the game and as Thibodeau likes to say, playing from a lead and able to sustain a cushion, even when the other team makes an inevitable run.
I think were just coming out with a lot of energy, not waiting to pick it up. Coming out, our defense has been great in the first quarter. Weve just got to keep doing that and weve been playing very unselfish on the offensive end, Deng said Monday. Its been there all year. We want to play like that every day. Theres times when you have a lot of energy, times when you dont have energy, but I think right now, were not just playing hard. Were also playing smart and thats the difference.
Chimed in C.J. Watson: Its kind of hard. We try not to play the score, just keep attacking, play the way that weve been playing and thats what we did for a little bit.
As impressive as Chicagos performance in wins over elite-level competition has been, its level of focus against the dregs of the league has been equally eye-opening, especially in this lockout-shortened campaign, which has yielded some surprising results around the NBA. Thus, even though funnyman Will Ferrell will be present at Wednesdays game -- the actor-comedian, whos filming a movie in New Orleans, will announce the starting lineups -- playing the Hornets, or any opponent of their ilk, are no laughing matter to the Bulls.