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Bulls eager for road test

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Bulls at clippers

The facts: 9:30, CSN, 1000-AM.

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



The Bulls racked up 12 wins in December and 12 in January to push their record to an impressive 33-14, but the seeds of their recent success likely were planted in November.

That’s when the team embarked on the always-tough (and sometimes crippling) circus trip unsure of its prospects. It returned two weeks later with the franchise’s first winning record on the trip in 13 years.

As they get set to begin another extended road trip against Western Conference foes tonight, starting with the Los Angeles Clippers, the Bulls, who went 4-3 on the November trip, believe they are positioned to have even more success.

‘‘I think this one will be good for us,” forward Luol Deng said. “We’re playing really well right now, and it’ll be a good test for us. The first road trip was great, but I think as a team we’ve improved a lot, we’re matured and we’ve jelled.

“Once again, it’ll be good to be away together for two weeks.”

Point guard Derrick Rose, stepping out from coach Tom Thibodeau’s one-game-at-time philosophy briefly, has a lofty goal in mind.

“I hope that we win every game, but there are going to be some tough games,” he said. “The teams [in the Western Conference] are playing very well and playing together. You’ve got the [New Orleans] Hornets playing well and the Clippers playing well. We just have to see.”

Despite thinking big, you can be sure the Bulls won’t be looking past the Clippers. For starters, the Bulls lost to the Clippers 100-99 on Dec. 18 at the United Center to make Vinny Del Negro’s homecoming a success. It’s one of only four home losses for the Bulls this season.

Beyond avenging that loss, the Bulls also will be focused on trying to contain big man Blake Griffin, who had 29 points and 12 rebounds — and several rim-rattling highlight dunks — in the December meeting.

“He’s a phenomenal player,” Bulls big man Taj Gibson said. “He’s making the rest of his teammates better, too, so we’re going to have our hands full.”

As with Dwight Howard of the ­Orlando Magic, one key to playing Griffin is not letting him catch the ball with two feet in the paint.

“He’s a star, and the things he’s doing as a rookie, actually his first year of playing, are very impressive,” Thibodeau said. “His power, athleticism and touch .  .  . if he catches the ball deep, it’s an ‘and one’ or certainly a score or a foul.

“He’s so quick, he’s tough to matchup with.”

All of the Bulls’ big men will get a shot at Griffin. They’ll look to be physical, make him catch the ball farther from the basket and, ideally, force him to beat them with jump shots.

Even if the Bulls are successful containing Griffin, he figures to break loose at least a few times and fly toward the rim. Gibson was asked what he’ll do when he sees Griffin going in for a highlight dunk.

“I’m going to try and get the block or take a foul,” Gibson said. “Like coach Thibodeau says, nothing easy.”

Although the Clippers (19-28) have an unimpressive record, their win total becomes more impressive when you consider they started the season 1-13.

“Their overall team play has been excellent,” Thibodeau said. “Baron Davis is playing at a high level. [Eric] Gordon’s been out, but [Randy] Foye has stepped in and played well for them, [Ryan] Gomes is a real solid guy, [DeAndre] Jordan has played great at center for them with his length and shot blocking at the rim.

“They’re a tough team. They’re playing very well at home, and as the season has gone along, they’re getting better and better.”

NOTE:

Tom Thibodeau was named the NBA’s Eastern Conference coach of the month for January on Tuesday, the first award he has won as a head coach. The Bulls were 12-4 in the month, and they’re near the top of the league in nearly all ­defensive statistical categories.

The league also announced Tuesday that forward Taj Gibson will play for the sophomores in the rookie challenge during All-Star Weekend later this month.



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