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Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau stressing team concept without Derrick Rose

Head coach Tom Thibodeau Chicago Bulls gets laugh out referee Tony Brothers #25 during game against Detroit Pistons United Center

Head coach Tom Thibodeau of the Chicago Bulls gets a laugh out of referee Tony Brothers #25 during a game against the Detroit Pistons at the United Center on March 30, 2012. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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Updated: December 6, 2012 6:19AM

It has been said repeatedly since the most important anterior cruciate ligament in the city was torn in April: Without Derrick Rose, the Bulls have no superstar.

But hand it to coach Tom Thibodeau for making that weakness seem like a strength while Rose continues to rehab his injured left knee. Well, at least for getting his team to believe it’s a strength.

‘‘In this league, in order to be a great team, you’ve got to have production from all the guys on the floor,’’ guard Richard Hamilton said. ‘‘You can’t just have one guy do the bulk of the scoring because good teams key on that, and — later in the playoffs — it’s hard to win like that.

‘‘In order for us to be good and successful, we’ve all got to be better. We all have to help each other without Derrick and bring more of a team thing to win games.’’

That means unselfishness on
offense, mucking up the game with defense and physical play on the boards. The Bulls did none of those things well in their 89-82 loss
Saturday to the New Orleans Hornets at the United Center.

So were the Bulls exposed by the Hornets? Somewhat. But it’s a guarantee Thibodeau will use the game film from Saturday as a coachable moment when the Bulls return to practice Monday.

‘‘As a team, we were out of sync,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘We were trying to get something going. That’s when you really have to stay connected as a team — when things aren’t going your way. I thought the
intentions were good by everybody. Everybody wanted to do well, but you have to do it as a team; you can’t do it individually. We wanted to change it, turn it around, and you have to stay within the team.’’

What the loss also showed is that Thibodeau still is searching for consistency on offense and trying to learn which players he can count on in the fourth quarter.

The Bulls’ inability to close out games irked Thibodeau during the preseason. That wasn’t a problem in season-opening victories against the Sacramento Kings and Cleveland Cavaliers, but it resurfaced against the Hornets.

That’s why starters Carlos Boozer, Kirk Hinrich and Hamilton were on the bench for the last 12 minutes. Reserves Taj Gibson, Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson took their place alongside usual starters Luol Deng and Joakim Noah.

‘‘Just searching, trying to get some energy out there,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘I just thought we were flat. I thought that group [with Gibson, Belinelli and Robinson] was playing with some energy.’’

Thibodeau came to the Bulls from the Boston Celtics, an organization that embraced statistics on its way to winning an NBA championship in 2008. The plus/minus stat means something to him.

The only two players on the Bulls who haven’t had a minus next to their name in the box score this season are Belinelli and Robinson. Gibson is close, getting a minus-1 in the victory against the Kings.

That’s why Thibodeau leaned on those three in an effort to chase down the Hornets in the fourth quarter Saturday.

‘‘Even in the wins we can do better,’’ Robinson said. ‘‘We just have to continue to play hard, be scrappy and make shots.’’

And do it together. At least until Rose returns.

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