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Thibs sounds off: ‘I’m trying to be like Phil Jackson’

Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau reacts call fourth quarter during Bulls' NBA basketball game against Utah Jazz Monday Nov. 25

Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau reacts to a call in the fourth quarter during the Bulls' NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz on Monday, Nov. 25, 2013, in Salt Lake City. The Jazz won 89-83. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

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Updated: January 17, 2014 2:04PM



WASHINGTON – The nation’s capital was a good place for a history lesson on Friday morning, and Tom Thibodeau definitely provided one.

The Bulls coach knows that his critics often point out the minutes he hands out to certain players, so after a franchise-record 60 minutes played by Jimmy Butler in Wednesday night’s triple-overtime win, Thibodeau was on the defensive after the shootaround.

“I think when you look at that, you have to compare apples to apples,’’ Thibodeau said, when asked about minutes. “If you look at the top small forwards in the league and you look at where their minutes are, they all averaged 37-38 minutes. So if you want to say Lu [former Bulls forward Luol Deng] played 20 seconds a game more than he should’ve, so be it. If you look at total minutes, it wasn’t even close. Overall, our minutes are way below what normal starters do. And if you guys study the history of the league, which I’m sure you do, the great Bulls teams you’d see that [Michael] Jordan and [Scottie] Pippen well into their 30s were playing huge minutes. So I’m trying to be like Phil [Jackson].’’

Three times in Jordan’s career he averaged over 40 minutes a game, and his final season with the Bulls he averaged 38.8 minutes. Pippen had five seasons where he averaged over 38 minutes per game.

“Yes, they did. I know,’’ Thibodeau continued of Pippen and Jordan. “I sat on that other bench. I was always sitting there saying, ‘When’s he going to take them out?’ He never did. And you know what? That was great coaching. And [Spurs coach Gregg] Popovich was the same way with [Tim] Duncan early on in his career. I think Pop is, certainly he and Phil are two of the best, maybe the greatest of all-time both of them. I think how you pace your team is important.’’

In Duncan’s first six seasons, 38.7 minutes a game in the 2000-01 season was his lowest.

“It’s easy to look at a box score and say, ‘Oh, that’s too much.’ But what you don’t see is the days off in practice,’’ Thibodeau said. “You don’t see what you have a guy do in practice. You may not have contact in practice. You may do shooting. You may do film. There’s a lot of things that go into it. I think I have a pretty good understanding after 24 years how to pace a team.’’

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com



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