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Bulls play Thunder like it’s the real thing in 94-89 preseason win

Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich deflects pass by Thunder guard Eric Maynor first quarter Chicago Bulls-OklahomCity Thunder NBA game Tuesday October

Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich deflects a pass by Thunder guard Eric Maynor in the first quarter of the Chicago Bulls-Oklahoma City Thunder NBA game Tuesday October 23, 2012 at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 25, 2012 11:54AM

Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks was treating Tuesday night’s preseason game like, well, a preseason game.

That meant sitting stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook against the Bulls.

Obviously, not everyone had that laid-back, ‘‘just another preseason game’’ mentality. Bulls big men Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer spent most of the evening turning the paint into an octagon with the Thunder’s Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, and the chippiness between the four even led to a technical foul against Noah in the second quarter.

Then there was Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who can make the sixth game of the preseason feel like Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals.

It was all hands on deck in a 94-89 Bulls win, with Thibodeau going with the normal starters and rotation — at least until an injured right groin sidelined guard Kirk Hinrich. Thibodeau said afterward he didn’t know how serious the injury was, but called it more of a ‘‘tweak.’’

“The preseason — each case is different and each coach knows their team best,’’ Thibodeau said of the Thunder playing two stars short. ‘‘Scott has done a great job with them, and they played late, they were in the [NBA] Finals. You have to do what you think is best for your team. I have enough to worry about here.’’

The final preseason game is Friday against the visiting Indiana Pacers before the regular season starts on Halloween night.

‘‘We want to continue to improve,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘That’s been the whole focus of our camp. I just want us to keep moving forward.’’

Thibodeau isn’t a fan of media predictions, so he wasn’t going to get caught up thinking about an NBA general managers’ poll in which 80 percent predicted the Pacers will win the Central Division this season.

‘‘Whether it’s praise or criticism, it really doesn’t matter,’’ Thibodeau said of the poll. ‘‘The only thing that matters is what we think. Again, I want it to come back to us concentrating on our improvement. If they picked us to win it, would it mean anything more? No. To me it doesn’t mean anything. I don’t care about that stuff.’’

In other words, if Thibodeau’s players need to play the disrespect card to get motivated, they’re not the type of players he wants around anyway.

‘‘If you have the right type of guys they’re going to get ready every day,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s all you have to focus in on.

‘‘If you start thinking
about that stuff now, you’re not thinking about the stuff that is important, and that takes away from doing things to the best of your ability.’’

As far as Tuesday’s win over the Thunder went, the Bulls improved their preseason record to 4-2. Boozer led the team with 24 points and 12 rebounds.

That included a fade-away jumper from the baseline with 34 second left, keeping the Bulls up by five.

‘‘You have to win a lot of different ways,’’ Thibodeau said of the physical play up front. ‘‘We have to be able to play physical and win, and not allow that to take away from what we’re trying to get accomplished out there. I think we can play that way.’’

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