Taj Gibson, who had 23 points Wednesday against the Pistons, says the Bulls are focused and keeping things positive. | Getty images
BULLS AT CAVALIERS
The facts: 6:30 p.m., Ch. 9, 1000-AM.
Updated: January 1, 2014 6:13AM
The Bulls might be a ‘‘sell’’ on the NBA market without Derrick Rose. But they aren’t buying into the gloom and doom.
‘‘It really doesn’t matter what other people think,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said after practice Friday at the Berto Center. ‘‘The only thing that matters is what we think. It’s like at the beginning of the season. People pick certain teams to do something, and oftentimes they’re wrong.’’
The negativity is understandable. Rose isn’t merely the league’s 2010-11 MVP; he’s the key offensive cog on a team that’s hardly a scoring machine.
That said, the Bulls can point to last spring, when they battled into the second round of the playoffs without Rose, as proof that they can soldier on.
‘‘You never know how things unfold,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘Someone else may take on an injury at a critical time. At the end of last year, I felt very good about the way we were playing. I felt we had a chance against anybody. Unfortunately, we lost a couple of guys in the playoffs that I would’ve loved to have had. But that’s the way it works sometimes.’’
In addition, the Bulls can point to an encouraging 99-79 road victory Wednesday against the Pistons without Jimmy Butler and Rose that snapped a four-game losing streak.
‘‘We’d been snakebit the last couple of games over the [Rose] shock, but we shook out of it a little the last game,’’ said Taj Gibson, who had a season-high 23 points on 11-for-13 shooting. ‘‘It’s all about guys stepping up. We’ve been in this position many times in the five years I’ve been here. We have a great group of guys here. Everybody works for everybody.’’
While it’s possible the front office will make a move or two to address the Bulls’ changed situation, there’s no doubt the team will get a boost from the return of Butler, who’s easing back from a severe turf toe.
Having had Rose taken away in the spring of 2012 as well as for all of last season, the team is hardly on unfamiliar ground.
‘‘We’ve been through it three years,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘We know no one can replace Derrick individually; our only chance is to do it collectively. But we’re more than capable. We’re hardworking, we play for each other, and the concentration has been very good. And we still don’t have Jimmy. When we get Jimmy back, that’ll be huge for us.’’
After trying to salvage another victory at Cleveland on Saturday in this six-game road trip, the Bulls will welcome four consecutive home games. But home or road, they plan to battle opponents as well as public opinion.
‘‘We’re just focused,’’ Gibson said. ‘‘We only care about what everybody in the locker room thinks. Everyone’s positive. We just have to keep the outside world out and have fun and play games. All you really have is yourself and your teammates.’’
And, sometimes, not even all of them.