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Rivers: Celtics will be ready for Bulls

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

As far as Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers is concerned, the sudden rise of the Bulls as a title contender is more a matter of what’s right with them than what’s wrong with his Celtics.

“I don’t know if there’s anything wrong with us,” Rivers told the Sun-Times. “We’re not upset at all. When you consider all the stuff we’ve been through, I’m thrilled to death to be where we’re at. We’ll be ready when the time comes.”

Did you read that, Bulls fans?

The Bulls have a three-game conference lead over the Miami Heat. The Celtics, who had been atop the East most of the season, are 31/2 games behind the Bulls. So the race figures to go down to the wire.

The Bulls-Celtics showdown Thursday night at the United Center could settle the issue.

Rivers, a Chicago native who starred at Proviso East and Marquette, is not too happy to be happier.

“Obviously, we do play up and down sometimes,” he said. “That’s probably what happens when you win the title one year [2008] and then don’t win the title the next two years. You just end up not playing your best every night.

“We haven’t played one second this year with our entire team intact and healthy. Either [Shaquille O’Neal] has been out [39 games], or Jermaine [O’Neal, 57 games] or Rajon [Rondo] has been out [12 games].”

Some have wondered if Rivers has been saving the 7-1, 325-pound Shaq for the playoffs, where a big, strong inside player looms largest.

“I wish I could say that Shaq’s been out because we’re saving him,” Rivers said. “But he’s really been injured. Hopefully, Shaq will be able to play again next week. We’ll see.”

The Bulls can thank the Celtics for rookie head coach Tom Thibodeau, who was Rivers’ assistant for the previous three years.

“Tom Thibodeau has been doing an excellent job, and I’m happy for him,” Rivers said. “We still talk a lot. We’re still good friends, and I’m not surprised with the fantastic job he’s doing in his first year. When somebody has been an assistant coach for as long as he has [21 years], people tend to typecast or pigeonhole you.

“But Tom’s showing that he has been deserving of a head-coaching job for some time. Three years ago when we won the title, we didn’t allow him to talk with other teams. Wherever there was a vacancy, I’d call teams and tell them, ‘Hey, you need to wait for this guy.’  ”

The Bulls waited their turn, and last summer added the coach custom-built for their vastly improved team.

“Derrick Rose has improved tremendously along with Joakim Noah,” Rivers said. ‘‘But what’s even more important are the pieces [general manager] Gar Forman and [operations chief] John Paxson haveadded in guys like Carlos Boozer, Kurt Thomas, Kyle Korver and just a good bunch of strong role players. So they had one hell of a summer improving that team.”

But it remains to be seen whether the Bulls improved enough to be champions of the NBA.

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