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Lottery pick sits at bottom of Bulls coach Thibodeau’s priorities

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HAWKS AT BULLS

The facts: 7 p.m., CSN, 1000-AM.

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Updated: February 10, 2014 10:56PM



It’s hard to say whether the Bulls or Los Angeles Lakers took the biggest step Sunday. The Kobe Bryant-less Lakers inched closer to the lottery. The Derrick Rose-less Bulls returned to Chicago the same .500 team they were when they left two weeks ago.

Progress? Mediocrity generally is a curse in the NBA. But coach Tom Thibodeau likes his team.

‘‘I’m really proud of the these guys and the way they fought,’’ Thibodeau said when asked how he felt about his team’s 25-25 record. ‘‘I don’t want anyone to define who we are except us. There’s room for growth, and we can do a lot better. But I love the fighting spirit of this team.’’

Thibodeau loves his team for the same reason a lot of Bulls fans are growing to despise it: They don’t know when to quit.

‘‘Sometimes we’re disappointed when the results aren’t what we’d like,’’ Thibodeau said, ‘‘but you can always count on them to come back the next day with the necessary fight, will and determination to get things right, and that’s all you can ask for.’’

In actuality, it’s hard to tell exactly where the Bulls are with two games left before the All-Star break.

‘‘That’s a good question,’’ All-Star center Joakim Noah said after leading the Bulls with 20 points and 13 rebounds against the Lakers. ‘‘We’ve just got to take it one game at a time. There’s a lot of basketball left.’’

With home games against the Atlanta Hawks (25-24) and Brooklyn Nets (23-24) on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively, the Bulls have a chance to go into the break with momentum — and possibly the No. 3 seed in the East.

‘‘We’re not satisfied with being .500,’’ Noah said. ‘‘You can never exhale. We’ve got to get better. Our whole mentality is just playing with an edge, playing [with] more of an edge than the other team.’’

Whether you believe the Bulls should be winning or losing, you have to be impressed with their ability to play with more of an edge than the other team. That’s a quality Thibodeau doesn’t want to lose when Rose returns, free agency opens and the Bulls presumably become a contender in more eyes than their own next season.

That’s worth more to Thibodeau than a shot at the lottery, which to many NBA observers is becoming more enticing every day with the emergence of Kansas 7-foot freshman Joel Embiid as a fourth difference-maker in the draft, along with Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins, Duke’s Jabari Parker and Kentucky’s Julius Randle.

Four chances to ‘‘win the lottery’’ looks like pretty good odds to some teams. Hours after the Bulls led 10-0 and 34-23 in the first quarter and played their hearts out in a wire-to-wire victory over the Lakers, the Philadelphia 76ers ­(15-37, the second-worst record in the NBA) fell behind the Los Angeles Clippers 13-0, 30-5 and 46-15 in the first quarter en route to an embarrassing 123-78 loss at Staples Center.

Thibodeau predictably has gotten every last ounce out of the Bulls, who are on pace for possibly home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs and Doug McDermott territory in the draft. Some teams aim for the draft. Thibodeau builds mental toughness that is worth a lot more with Rose in the lineup. Still, the Bulls are 11-7 since trading Luol Deng. They are as resilient as any team in the league.

‘‘The whole time we’ve been here, we’ve always had tough ­injuries,’’ Taj Gibson said. ‘‘We’ve always been at the edge, but we never jump. We always just crawl and fight our way back to the top.

‘‘That’s our mind-set. We’re just crawlin’ and scrappin’. We’ve got young guys, new guys, they believe in that same thing. And we believe we’ve got a shot.’’

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkPotash



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