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As rumors continue, Boozer-led Bulls top Bucks 81-72

Chicago Bulls' Carlos Boozer shoots over Milwaukee Bucks' Ekpe Udoh BrandKnight during first half an NBA basketball game Friday Jan.

Chicago Bulls' Carlos Boozer shoots over Milwaukee Bucks' Ekpe Udoh and Brandon Knight during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

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Updated: January 10, 2014 11:10PM



MILWAUKEE — No one on the Bulls’ roster is safe, and the players have had to deal with that reality since long-time Bull Luol Deng was traded Monday to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

‘‘Anything is possible,’’ vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said when asked recently if more trades are coming.

And while Paxson said there were no definitive moves on the horizon, there have been growing rumors, with Kirk Hinrich and Mike Dunleavy the latest Bulls reportedly drawing interest.

‘‘The important thing is to lock into what we have to do to win — to improve, to chase excellence,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said of those rumors before an 81-72 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday night. ‘‘Normally this time of the year, that’s sort of the nature of pro sports — everybody talking about the possibilities. Every team has to deal with it. The teams that are able to focus and not get distracted, those are the ones that are successful.

‘‘In this league, there’s always something. You can find something or you can find a way to get it done. I would rather our guys focus on a way to get it done.’’

Thibodeau reiterated he has been talking to his players daily, and that includes conversations with injured star Derrick Rose.

Asked how Rose reacted to Deng being traded, Thibodeau was very vague.

‘‘Derrick is good,’’ he said. ‘‘He’s locked into his rehab, he’s dealing with things as he should, and we’re just concentrating on our team and our improvement.’’

That improvement is a lot easier when playing teams like the 7-28 Bucks, especially with Carlos Boozer back in the starting lineup. Boozer, who missed two games with a sore right knee, scored a game-high 19 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, while Dunleavy scored 18 for the Bulls (16-18).

Center Joakim Noah, who has been battling flu-like symptoms the last few days, finished with just eight points but had 10 rebounds and seven assists.

And, of course, the Bucks were very cooperative down the stretch, missing their last 11 shots.

‘‘As long as we win, that’s what this team is all about,’’ guard Jimmy Butler said. ‘‘Nobody cares about stats, none of that. As long as you get a win in the win column, that’s the best thing you can have as a team.’’

It’s what this team does best —ugly up a game and hope to grind it out at the end.

Thibodeau said the key to scratching out a second consecutive win without Deng was going 27-for-39 (69 percent) from the free-throw line.

‘‘We know that we have to defend and we have to rebound,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘Offensively, we’ll get there. The big thing is we need people healthy and practicing together. It’s so important to practice together. We have to make sure we get back to that.’’

Lost in all the trade talk is that the Bulls have won seven of their last nine games and moved into the No. 5 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff picture after being out of that picture just a week ago.

That’s why Thibodeau doesn’t care how ugly the games have looked.

‘‘You guys are into the aesthetics. I’m into the wins,’’ he said. ‘‘You’ve got to win different ways. This group has responded to every challenge they’ve had.’’

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com



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