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Bulls’ Taj Gibson, Omer Asik put in extra work

Bulls forward Taj Gibspractices when no one else does. His work ethic is commendable his game continues improve. | Nam

Bulls forward Taj Gibson practices when no one else does. His work ethic is commendable, and his game continues to improve. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

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Knicks at Bulls

The facts: 7, CSN, ESPN, 1000-AM.

Updated: April 13, 2012 10:33AM

While Derrick Rose and Luol Deng were in Orlando, Fla., for the All-Star Game late last month, their teammates scattered for a well-deserved respite. Kyle Korver wanted to feel the sun on his face and warm sand between his toes. Carlos Boozer and Brian Scalabrine went home to spend time with their families.

Taj Gibson and Omer Asik spent their break at the one place everyone else wanted to avoid. While their teammates were getting away from it all, Gibson and Asik were at the Berto Center trying to get better.

It was the same thing Sunday. Coach Tom Thibodeau gave players who didn’t need to receive treatment for an injury the day off after Saturday night’s 111-97 victory over the Jazz at the United Center. Not Gibson, though. He practices when nobody else does.

“I was battling through this rough season like everybody else,” Gibson said of his decision to work out daily during the All-Star break. “I felt like I had to put more work in. I didn’t feel like myself at the beginning of the year. I felt like I didn’t have enough energy. Me and Omer just stayed the whole weekend and worked out and got stronger. We’re going to do the same thing [Sunday].”

Gibson likely would be involved if the Bulls make a significant trade before the trade deadline Thursday, which is one of the reasons they’re expected to make a minor tweak or none at all. Gibson’s skills are valued by the Bulls as well as potential trade partners. His defensive tenacity and ability to finish make him the perfect complement to Carlos Boozer.

Between them, the Bulls are averaging 23 points and 12.7 rebounds at power forward.

“[Gibson’s] defense is his strength, his shot-blocking,” Thibodeau said. “He’s got great feet, can guard four positions and in some cases five, and offensively he’s gotten more comfortable. We’re searching him out more in the post. He’s gotten more comfortable with his pick-and-pop jump shot out to 17 feet.”

His ability to defend multiple positions will make him a key figure in a likely playoff series against the Heat. Asik’s absence after breaking his fibula in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals was a factor in the Bulls’ eventual ouster. They both need to produce more offensively. Gibson is a more comfortable jump shooter, but he still lacks confidence at times. Asik remains raw.

People who want to know how much the Bulls can improve from last year should consider how more production from Gibson and Asik could tip the scales.

“I feel like I could be more consistent,” Gibson said. “When you come off the bench, you have to read the game. I try to come in and play with energy whether we’re down or up, try to play solid defense, shoot when I’m open. The coaching staff told me they really need me to pick it up the way I was in the playoffs and the way I was at the beginning of last season. I’m just trying to bring the energy.”

Korver tells a story about how he showed up at the Jazz’s practice facility determined to hoist 1,000 shots to get himself out of a slump when he was playing in Utah. Assistant coach Jeff Hornacek had a better idea: Don’t even take one. Go home, relax, reset. Sometimes less is more, especially during this lockout-condensed season.

Gibson is taking it to the opposite extreme. He worked out over the All-Star break because he felt his legs got heavy after taking a few days off last season. The compressed schedule has been tough on big men, especially. It took several weeks for Joakim Noah to hit his stride. Gibson and Asik are still searching for theirs at the Berto Center when everybody else is taking the day off.

“I’m going to watch film, look at my mistakes,” Gibson said late Saturday night. “I’ll work on my shots and just keep working at it. We’ve got a great coaching staff that pushes me every day. They keep telling me I can take it to the next level. It’s up to me to put the work in.”

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