The season began with a trip to Indianapolis for one of two exhibition games. It feels like yesterday and forever ago. Sixty-four games and 120 days later, the Bulls’ season is nearing the end with another trip to Indianapolis for the penultimate game of the season, and the most essential question remains.
The Bulls own the best record and therefore home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs thanks to the Heat resting LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in a 78-66 loss to the Celtics on Tuesday night. At 48-16, the Bulls are tied with the Spurs for the best record in the league and own the tiebreaker with a win in San Antonio.
It’s no small accomplishment, and the Bulls have done it for the second straight year, proving they are beyond a doubt the NBA’s most consistent regular-season team. However, the larger question still looms: Can the Bulls prove equally successful in playoffs?
“I like our chances, I really do,” playoff veteran Rip Hamilton said. “We’re a very deep team. That’s the thing I really admire and really love. You’ve always got somebody coming in and having your back. When guys come off the bench, there’s not a drop-off.”
The next two games will provide few answers. The Bulls will play a Pacers team tonight that is expected to sit star forward Danny Granger after locking up the third seed in the East. On Thursday, the Bulls will play their final game against the Cavaliers at the United Center and then await the schedule for their first-round playoff series against either the Sixers or Knicks.
Thibodeau is a co-favorite along with San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich for Coach of the Year in large part because he hasn’t let his team look ahead. He won’t change now.
“Anytime you’re going head to head with a team like that, it’s good,” Thibodeau said of the Pacers. “It helps get you ready for what you’re going to be facing. The important thing is not to change our approach, to prepare the exact same way, know your opponent, know what you want to get accomplished, know what their strengths and weaknesses are. What are the things we want to take away from them? What are the things we’re going to try to live with? What are we going to try to accomplish offensively? Those are the things you look at.”
Derrick Rose participated in a full practice Tuesday for the first time since re-injuring his ankle against the Pistons on April 15 and is set to make his second straight start. That means the Bulls will field their starting lineup against the Pacers for just the 15th time this season.
“We got D-Rose back,” forward Carlos Boozer said. “He’s still not 100 percent but he’s working through it. We’ve got Rip back. He looks like he’s 100 percent. He’s playing great. Getting our cohesion back is more important than anything else right now.”