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Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau should consider taking his foot off the gas a bit

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau talks with guard Derrick Rose before play resumes after timeout fourth quarter Chicago Bulls 99-94

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau talks with guard Derrick Rose before play resumes after a timeout in the fourth quarter of the Chicago Bulls 99-94 loss to the Orlando Magic Thursday March 8, 2012 at the United Center. | TOM CRUZE~Sun-Times photo

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Updated: May 13, 2012 10:33AM

The Maurice Podoloff Trophy really wouldn’t lose much if the right leg were sawed off.

That’s the least Derrick Rose should do to the MVP trophy he earned last season.

Saw the leg off the little statue, put it in a nice box with cotton, hand it to Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau and say, ‘‘Thank you, Coach, for helping me earn this last season and for the coaching job you’ve done this season.’’

Forget encores. This season simply has been Act II for one of the better starts to a coaching career the NBA has seen in quite some time.

Think about it. Thibodeau walked away with Coach of the Year honors last season, primarily for turning a young group of talented players into a defensive juggernaut and earning the best regular-season record in the league.

This season, he has been running a MASH unit, still waiting to get his regulars on the floor for more than a week. Yet he still has the best record in the league, including a 16-7 mark with Rose in street clothes.

Hell, that’s 44-14 overall with John Lucas III starting two of those games. I repeat, John Lucas III. That alone should make Thibodeau the first man in NBA history to win back-to-back Coach of the Year awards.

Add in that Rip Hamilton has played only 20 games and that Luol Deng has been battling a wrist problem, and it’s a head-scratcher how the Bulls have put themselves in position to capture the top seed once again.

Well, it would be for most teams not coached by Thibodeau.

Some big concerns have been answered in this lockout-shortened season, specifically whether Thibodeau’s pedal-to-the-floor mentality would wear thin on his roster. Look at the drama playing out with Dwight Howard and coach Stan Van Gundy on the Orlando Magic.

This is still the ultimate player-driven league. And if the players want you out, start stealing a few team towels and packing.

The Bulls, though, still are drinking the Thibodeau Kool-
Aid of defense first, defense
second and defense third. That starts with Rose and filters all the way down to Jimmy Butler and Brian Scalabrine.

But now is the time for Thibodeau to do something not in his DNA. With eight games left in the regular season, it’s time for him to lift his foot off the pedal slightly, starting with the game Thursday against the Miami Heat at the United Center.

Rose’s ankle tested out OK in practice Wednesday, and he might be a go against the Heat. Thibodeau ought to let him go, then throw the reins on him for the final seven games. That means limiting his minutes and even sitting him Monday against the Washington Wizards and in the last game of the season April 26 against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

No one is calling for the Bulls to throw games. But just as the San Antonio Spurs have rested Tim Duncan, even listing him as ‘‘DND [did not dress] — Old,’’ Rose should be listed as ‘‘DND — Too Valuable.’’ Or, at least for right now, ‘‘DND — Too Fragile.’’

I get that the Bulls’ goal in the regular season is capturing the
No. 1 seed and that nothing will change that. But the easiest road back to the Eastern Conference finals might be through the
No. 2 spot, especially if the Boston Celtics go into the playoffs as the No. 4 seed.

Then again, Thibodeau preaches a game-by-game philosophy, so looking at the big picture and into playoff scenarios is a sin in the Book of Tom.

It’s a book that so far reads like a best-seller — at least until the Eastern Conference finals come around.

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