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Bulls’ spoiler role in East suits D.J. Augustin just fine

Chicago Bulls' D.J. August(14) goes up for shot against Miami Heat's Chris Anders(11) Michael Beasley (8) during third quarter an

Chicago Bulls' D.J. Augustin (14), goes up for a shot against Miami Heat's Chris Anderson (11), and Michael Beasley (8), during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game in Chicago, Sunday, March 9, 2014. Chicago won 95-88 in overtime. (AP Photo/ Paul Beaty) ORG XMIT: CXA111

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The facts: 7 p.m., Ch. 26, 1000-AM.

Updated: March 27, 2014 9:55PM

The Bulls have played the role of regular-season overachievers since Luol Deng was sent packing to the Cleveland Cavaliers in early January.

Come late April, it’s time to start being postseason party wreckers.

It’s been a foregone conclusion that the Eastern Conference finals were invite only, with the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers holding the two tickets. While there was no real bulletin-board material coming out of the Berto Center on Thursday, there was definitely a warning for outsiders that banking on Heat-Pacers could be a dangerous assumption.

“Sometimes people say things they don’t really know about,’’ Bulls guard D.J. Augustin said when asked about the expected Heat-Pacers showdown. “In the playoffs, anything can happen. It’s going to be funny to watch, if one of those teams goes down, to kind of have the last laugh at them.

“We can’t worry about that kind of stuff. We’ve got to focus on ourselves. We feel like we can beat any team in the NBA, East or West.’’

That’s the mind-set coach Tom Thibodeau has been feeding them. Long before Derrick Rose (right knee) was lost for the season or Deng was traded, Thibodeau had conditioned his players since the start of camp that hardships were coming and would be overcome.

Even when it seemed as if the locker room was hanging its head after the Deng trade, Thibodeau kept pushing that message. The result has been a 26-13 record since Deng was moved, the second-best record in the East over that time.

“No. I’m not surprised,’’ Thibodeau said. “I expected them to respond that way because that’s the way they’re built. We’ve gone through it before. We’ve dealt with injuries the last four years. The first year, it was Joakim [Noah] for three months, Carlos [Boozer] for a month. The next year, the lockout and Derrick goes down and he missed half that season. Then last year. That’s part of the game. It’s your mentality. We have tough-minded guys. That’s what is necessary to win.’’

It also seems to be what’s feeding his players.

“People have been doubting us since Derrick went down and Luol was traded,’’ Augustin said. “We feel like with the group we have, we can beat any team we play against, and we have that mind-set every game.’’

But regular-season, feel-good stories are one thing. Facing the Heat or Pacers in a possible second-round meeting in the postseason? Well, that’s where feel-good stories could die.

Thibodeau said he watched the big Heat-Pacers game Wednesday, and he continued to stay away from answering which team he would rather face in a seven-game series.

That’s why there will be no jockeying for position the next few weeks in hopes of landing a perceived easier road.

“The important thing is building the habits that are necessary habits that you feel give you your best chance to be successful,’’ Thibodeau said. “Again, I’m not saying our way is the only way.’’

That’s why Thibodeau has coined the phrase, “Get in the circle.’’ And when it comes to the Bulls upsetting one of the two big dogs in the East, his circle seems to be small.

“From the very first day of training camp we talked about what other peoples’ expectations are aren’t important, what they think, whether it’s praise or criticism,’’ Thibodeau said. “We believe if we are doing the necessary things we have as good a chance as anybody.’’


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