Bulls at Pacers
The facts: 6 p.m., CSN, 1000-AM
Updated: December 7, 2013 6:32AM
Backup center Nazr Mohammed was reminiscing.
That’s what 16-year NBA veterans tend to do.
But the game Oct. 18 against the Indiana Pacers was a first for Mohammed. It was the fifth preseason game, and the two coaches were acting as if it were Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.
“You know,’’ Mohammed said, “that’s a new one for me.’’
Tom Thibodeau and Frank Vogel had their starters back on the court for the last five-plus minutes. They were substituting offense for defense after timeouts and were working the officials like sideshow barkers. All for a 103-98 Bulls victory that few fans will remember.
That’s what happens with teams that just don’t like each other.
“Yeah, I think both teams recognize each other as serious contenders,’’ reserve forward Mike Dunleavy said Tuesday. ‘‘Every time we step on the court, whether it’s preseason or regular season, we know we’re going to get the other team’s best shot. It’s no different [Wednesday night].
‘‘It’s an important game for both teams, and hopefully we can take care of business.’’
They need to because business has been sluggish since opening night in Miami. The Bulls have a 1-2 record, inconsistent defense and a superstar in Derrick Rose who looks very much like a player who has missed 18 months.
Meanwhile, the Pacers (4-0) came into the season having to listen to talk that the only reason they won the division last season was because the Bulls were undermanned.
No wonder there’s not much love going around.
“Every time we play, they don’t like us, we don’t like them,’’ reserve big man Taj Gibson said in the preseason. “A lot of talking, a whole lot of trash-talking.’’
Center Joakim Noah, who was in street clothes for both preseason games against the Pacers because of a groin strain, spent his time on the bench going back and forth with Roy Hibbert and David West.
“[The game Wednesday] is significant because it’s the next one,’’ Thibodeau said. “You have to understand what goes into winning. When you start taking shortcuts, you get into trouble.’’
Thibodeau stayed away from feeding into the rivalry; his concerns have more to do with his own team.
The point he continued to beat into the ground was that he wants to make sure his players have put the work in during practice, have done it together as a team and can translate that to a regular-season game.
Not having Noah for most of training camp and losing shooting guard Jimmy Butler (left knee) for almost a week were two losses the team is still trying to get over, Thibodeau said.
That’s why he went out of his way to absolve Rose of some of the blame for the Bulls’ inconsistent play.
“We need everyone,’’ Thibodeau said about practice the last few days. “It’s not a Derrick issue. This is a team issue. This is a Bulls issue.
“You can do all the conditioning on the side that you want, but competing is what gives you an edge. You can ride a bike forever, but you’re not competing. This is a competition. It’s not a show. You’ve got to go after people. And that’s what we’ve got to get back to.’’