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Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau won’t rest players in last two games

Derrick Rose played complementary role Bulls’ victory Saturday against Mavericks United Center. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

Derrick Rose played a complementary role in the Bulls’ victory Saturday against the Mavericks at the United Center. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

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Updated: December 24, 2012 4:37PM



The Miami Heat’s Erik Spoelstra is among several coaches of contending teams who are resting players at the possible cost of a higher playoff seed. The Bulls’ Tom Thibodeau is gambling on a different approach.

While Derrick Rose was a shadow of himself in the Bulls’ victory Saturday against the reigning NBA champion Dallas Mavericks at the United Center, Thibodeau finally has his
entire roster at his disposal and lots he wants to accomplish before the regular season ends Thursday against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Heat’s 97-88 victory Sunday against the Houston Rockets means the Bulls still need a victory or a Heat loss to lock up home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs for the second consecutive season. But it’s equally important for the Bulls to build on-court chemistry while trying out different combinations in the hopes of settling on a playoff rotation.

Giving players games off isn’t a part of the strategy. While other coaches are allowing their teams to coast into the postseason, it’s full speed ahead for the Bulls.

‘‘We can’t look back,’’ forward Taj Gibson said. ‘‘We’ve got to keep pushing forward. We know we want to finish strong, that’s the main thing. We want the best record. What team wouldn’t want that after going so hard during this condensed season? We’re going to go after it.

‘‘I know Thibs isn’t a fan of resting guys. We don’t want rest. It’s the time of the season where you can’t really rest. You have to go into the playoffs ready and have a good spark. Guys always say you get it back in the playoffs, but you never know.’’

What once appeared to be a two-team race in the Eastern Conference between the Bulls and Heat has
become crowded. Both front-runners have looked vulnerable late in the season, while the New York Knicks, Indiana Pacers, Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks have surged.

The playoffs should be more competitive than many expected. Surviving the second round seems more daunting.

‘‘Knowing it’s a lockout season, you can have teams that maybe end up being a lower seed that really aren’t that seed,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘Boston is a team that’s playing very well, and they have championship experience. New York is playing
really well. Indiana is playing well.

‘‘There’s great parity in the league. There’s not a big difference between one and eight, two and seven, three and six, four and five. A big part of success in the playoffs comes down to are you playing well and are you healthy. You have to concentrate on those things.’’

If there’s one thing the Bulls have accomplished this season, it’s
reminding critics how well-built and well-coached they are just when it appears they’re beginning to fade. The latest example came Saturday, when Rip Hamilton and Luol Deng picked up the scoring slack and allowed Rose to play a complementary role.

‘‘Overall, this team has done a good job of meeting every challenge,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘We’ve been short-handed. The guys who have stepped in have done great all season long. We feel good about the bench and what they’ve done all season long, but it has been a collective effort, and there’s still a long way to go. Overall, I’m pleased. But there’s also things we can do a lot better, and we’re going to concentrate on those things.’’

The last week of the regular season is often unpredictable, and this season is no exception. But the Bulls know there’s one thing they can count on: The Pacers relish beating them, so they won’t be resting anybody when the teams square off Wednesday in Indianapolis.

Barring something unforeseen, neither will the Bulls.

‘‘Right now, it’s all about getting better,’’ center Joakim Noah said. ‘‘It’s all about getting a little momentum for the playoffs. But we know Indiana is going to come ready to play, and it will be a playoff atmosphere there. It’s exciting stuff.’’



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