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Bulls’ road trip begins against old friend Belinelli, Spurs

SAN ANTONIO TX - JANUARY 15:  Marco Belinelli #3 San Antonio Spurs dribbles ball against Utah Jazz January 15

SAN ANTONIO, TX - JANUARY 15: Marco Belinelli #3 of the San Antonio Spurs dribbles the ball against the Utah Jazz on January 15, 2014 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Chris Covatta/NBAE via Getty Images)

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Updated: January 31, 2014 7:48PM



There’s something refreshing about power forward Taj Gibson.

Sure, like the rest of the Bulls, he’s often citing verses from the Book of Thibodeau, but there’s an honesty about him.

“Brooklyn real’’ is how Gibson, born and raised in that New York borough, once described it.

It doesn’t get any more real for the Bulls than Wednesday night in San Antonio, where they start a six-game road trip against Western Conference foes. They’re only 4-10 against the West.

“That’s a tough one,’’ Gibson said. “That’s a tough one right there in the beginning. We’ll be playing against our old teammate Marco [Belinelli]. He’ll want to draw blood.

‘‘We’re going to play against a strong-minded team. And we’re on the road; all we have is us. No one is on our bandwagon right now.’’

Not even their owner, possibly.

When discussing the team in an interview with WGN in the wake of SoxFest, chairman Jerry Reinsdorf seemed to have his seat on the Bulls’ bandwagon in an exit row.

“Obviously, we’re a mediocre team this year, a middle-of-the-pack team,” Reinsdorf said.

“Looks like we probably will make the playoffs, but we don’t know for sure. But we’re not that bad. When Derrick [Rose] comes back, that gets us a top-five player, and we’ve got a lot of things going for us.’’

Thanks, Mr. Chairman.

“All year we just hear the negatives, and we’re just pushing through,’’ Gibson said. “I’m looking forward for [more] adversity we’re going to overcome.’’

That might not be so easy against the Western Conference. Struggling against the West is a carry-over from last season, when the Bulls went 11-19 against the conference.

“It’s a big one,’’ swingman Jimmy Butler said of the trip. “On the road, Western Conference. I guess all odds are stacked against us, but that’s the way we like to play. Everybody counts us out, so we’ve got a lot to prove.’’

Starting against the defending Western Conference champion Spurs, and a familiar face in Belinelli.

Belinelli, who played last season with the Bulls, badly wanted to stay in Chicago. He said it many times throughout the year. The Bulls went with Mike Dunleavy in free agency, getting more of a catch-and-shoot wing player.

In Belinelli, they lost a player who could create his own shot and, as it turns out, the best three-point shooter in the league.

He entered Tuesday 70-for-145 from three-point range for a league-best .483 percentage. Dunleavy is 68-for-166 (.410).

“Marco is a hell of a player,’’ Butler said. “All my former teammates, I take it personal when I have to guard them, so I feel like I’ll be guarding him a little bit and giving him all hell on both sides of the floor.’’

After San Antonio, the Bulls travel to New Orleans, Sacramento, Phoenix, Oakland (Golden State Warriors) and Los Angeles (Lakers). For a team that’s 22-22, well, no easy task.

“Sometimes one conference may appear to be slightly better than the other, but last time I checked, the defending champion was from the East,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said when asked about the discrepancy between the East and West.

When reminded that the Miami Heat was actually the two-time defending champion, Thibodeau said, “Thank you, I stand corrected.’’

Then again, Heat ownership isn’t exactly labeling its team “mediocre.’’

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com



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