Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011Posted: 10:15 PM
By Aggrey Sam
LOS ANGELESThings are looking up for the Chicago Bulls these days. In addition to the teams current five-game winning streak, the Bulls are also racking up accolades and the health of key players is improving.
But as proud as the Bulls are of Tom Thibodeau winning the NBAs January Coach of the Month of the award, Taj Gibsons second straight Rookie Challenge appearance and of course, Derrick Roses All-Star starter status, they might be more excited about trying to continue their winning ways on their five-game West Coast road trip.
I think this one will be really good for us. Were playing really well right now and it will be a good test for us. The first road trip was great, but I think weve improved a lot, said Luol Deng. It will be good to be away together for two weeks.
Added Gibson: Its fun. We get to have a lot of team bonding. Guys are close-knit. Were already a close bunch, but its even better the second time around and Im looking forward to try to win some more games in a row.
I think were way stronger. I think were much more mentally stronger because weve been on the road, Gibson expounded. Plus, most guys are real healthy. Were getting Joakim back very soon.
Noah, who got the cast off his right hand before the Bulls departed for Los Angelesand beat a massive snowstorm in Chicagomade the trip with the team and has been cleared for the non-contact portion of practice.
I want to come back as ready as possible, said Noah. I just want to be back out there and play at 100 percent. I dont want it hurting after resting all this time. I just want to be right and go out there and help the team as soon as I can.
No pain, but it still feels a little stiff, so Ive got work to do, continued Noah, who worked with Hall of Famer and Bulls legend Scottie Pippen after Mondays practice. Rehab is a big part of what Ill be doing for the next couple weeks."
Remarked Thibodeau on Noahs progress: Noah is getting some shots up, going through dummy offense, closing out.
Gibson has battled back from his own recent health scare, a sprained right ankle.
Im feeling fine, said Gibson. Long first night of pain, but I came back strong. I just wanted to play through it.
Im very surprised because its the same injury that nagged me the early part of the season, he continued. When I re-aggravated it, I thought I was going to probably be out for some games. I really couldnt feel anything in my foot.
The teams state of health aside, if they are to continue their recent momentum, it starts with Wednesdays matchup with the Clippers at the Staples Center, where they will try to avenge a December home loss, take on Rookie of the Year favorite Blake Griffin and visit with former Bulls head coach Vinny Del Negro. After losing 13 of their first 14 games, the Clippers have become respectable lately and are a force at home.
Theyre playing very good right now, sharing the ball. Theyve got some key players on the team that are carrying them. Theyre a team where they can scare you. They can come out and you never know whats going to happen. We know weve got to come out and play hard because theyre very talented, said Rose. I'm a little bit surprised but I take my hat off to Del Negro. Theyre playing decent basketball right nowtheyre dangerous, especially at home.
I guess hes learning, coaching them very well. Theyre playing with a lot of confidence right now. Everythings jelling for them. Theyre winning more games and that does have something to do with the coaching. It tells a lot. Im happy for him. Its got something to do with the coaching, especially with the way that theyre playing right now.
Gibson talked about the prospect of trying to stop Griffin.
Hes a phenomenal player, said Gibson. Were going to have our hands full.
And if he attempts one of his poster-worthy dunks? Im going in to try to get the block or try to take the foul.
Thibodeau added: Youve just got to try to make him work for his points. Concentrate on body position, try to give the appropriate help without over-helping, where you open everything up for everybody else. He has a rare combination of power, strength and quickness, along with touch. He can face you up and put it on the floor. He poses a lot of different problems for you.
Hes very unselfish, too. If you double team him, hes looking to make the right play. He plays with a lot of poise. For a young player to do the things that he does is very impressive.
The Bulls head coach was also complimentary of the other Clippers.
Shooting guard Randy Foye is playing extremely well with leading scorer Eric Gordon being out," Thibodeau said. "If youre helping off starting center DeAndre Jordan, all of a sudden, he gets 15, 20 points on you.
Perhaps, however, the Clippers resurgence begins with veteran point guard Baron Davis. The Los Angeles native started off the season out of shape and injured, but has rebounded to be a leader for the young squad.
Hes rejuvenated. You can see that. Hes healthy again and hes playing with a lot of fire. If hes healthy, hes one of the best point guards in the league and hes been that for a long time, said Thibodeau. Hes been derailed with injury at times and thats certainly slowed him down, but I think that hes healthy now, he looks good and theyre a good team. I think that has him excited. Hes playing with a lot of juice. Hes playing at a very high level right now.
Added Rose: Hes been playing well, dishing the ball, giving the ball to Blake, giving the ball to all their shooters so they can hit shots and hes been aggressive.
Rose still remembers the Bulls tough December one-point loss to the Clippers in Chicago, in which he missed a late free throw that could have sent the game into overtime.
Weve got to get this one tonight. I think we let that one slip back at home, so it gives us a chance to get a little revenge back at their place, said Rose. I think that Im supposed to hit every shot like that at the end of a game, especially a free throw. It gives me something to think about and just knowing how that feels after a game-just being madI think it helps you grow as a player. You cant feel any worse than that, when walking off the court and you see everybody putting their jackets on, and just leaving because of you and it hurts, man. So, if anything, it makes me stronger.
The same goes for his team, as they start a road trip on which they are confident and expect success.
I dont think you ever get there and to me, its how youre playing, too, and we want to continue to improve, but I think the formula for us is not going to change, said Thibodeau. Sometimes its harder to get established on the road, but thats when your concentration comes in and your preparation.
Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.