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Resilient Bulls have persevered through adversity all season

Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah reacts after Nazr Mohammed scored basket during second half an NBA basketball game against Philadelphi76ers

Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah reacts after Nazr Mohammed scored a basket during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers in Chicago, Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014. The Bulls won 103-78. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

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Updated: January 19, 2014 8:28PM



Each week seems to bring a different challenge to a Bulls team that labeled itself ‘‘special’’ entering the season. Trades, injuries, rumored infighting between coach and front office — pick an obstacle.

Still, the Bulls are 7-2 in January and are climbing their way up the Eastern Conference playoff seedings. ‘‘Special’’ seems to be taking on an entirely new meaning.

‘‘They’ve got a lot of fight in them,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. ‘‘This team always bounces back. We’ve taken a lot of hits. We have to keep grinding. We’ve got a long way to go, and we want to be in position to win every night.’’

That’s the message Thibodeau has been feeding his players since training camp started, long before Derrick Rose was lost for the season because of surgery on his right knee and Luol Deng was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

So squash all the talk about the lack of talent left on the roster and the dreams about drafting Duke star Jabari Parker. The Bulls seem to be lottery-proof.

‘‘In life, everything is like that,’’ backup big man Taj Gibson said. ‘‘You have to believe in yourself. Nobody is going to believe more than the people around you and the people in the gym with you. That’s what we feel. We understand that the only ones that believe in us are in that locker room, and we’ll keep dropping with that.’’

Gibson even took it a step further. Not only did he say the Bulls are capable of finishing among the top three in the Eastern Conference, he also said they would welcome a playoff matchup against the Indiana Pacers or Miami Heat.

‘‘We feel like we have enough talent to be right up there in the top three of the East,’’ Gibson said. ‘‘So I feel like we’ve got a good shot. When it comes to playoffs, it’s all about matchups and experience. We have enough experience with the guys that we have, and we’re getting experience for the younger guys that are stepping up right now. Come playoff time, we’ll have a lot of options.

‘‘The main thing is to have that thing in your chest. We’ve got a lot of that; we’ve got a whole lot of heart. And that heart can get you a long way in this league.’’

Small forward Mike Dunleavy is in his 12th season and has played for some very bad teams.

‘‘You don’t always have that mentality that guys in this locker room have,’’ Dunleavy said. ‘‘Professional athletes like to throw around clichés like that, but I’ve been on teams where that hasn’t been the case. Not that you knew you were going to lose, but it is a locker room that is questioning which way it’s going to go.

‘‘Here, you have guys dropping like flies at certain points, whether it’s an injury or trades, and I think there has been maybe one night where it’s been like, ‘Man, how’s it going to go tonight?’ Now we’re kind of settled into our team, and we believe each night. Every night, we feel like we can go out there, compete and give ourselves a chance to win.’’

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com



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