CHICAGO -- In the middle of an arduous 82-game NBA season, every player is going to need an extra jolt here and there -- especially on the second night of a back-to-back.
Such was the case for the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night against the Charlotte Bobcats. Both teams looked tired throughout, but it was the Bulls who came through when it mattered most. Aside from the ability of coach Tom Thibodeau to continually get the most out of his players, the players themselves deserve a lion's share of the credit for continuing to push their bodies -- and emotions -- to the max.
"We'll be in these grind-it-out games, and, sometimes, it's so awkward," Bulls forward Taj Gibson admitted. "Sometimes, it's just, 'Who wants it more?' Then you've got a guy like Joakim [Noah]. He's yelling, 'Come on!' He's yelling and he's believing in you, and then when you see your teammates looking out for you guarding hard -- playing hard for you -- that makes you want to go hard for them. And we just play hard for each other."
Trade rumors don't stop the Bulls: One of the reasons the Bulls are so tightly knit is because Thibodeau and his players don't allow themselves to become distracted by outside perceptions. When asked about how trade rumors may affect his team, Thibodeau brushed off that talk quickly.
"They've gotten used to you guys," he quipped. "It's really the challenge, I think, of the league. When you lay out your plan in the beginning of the season, you talk about all the things that crop up during a season. There's injuries, there's trades, there's things going your way, not going your way, there's the schedule, there's early games, late games, back-to-back games. There's all that stuff. That's why I think it's so important to establish a routine: how you're going to prepare, what goes into each and every day, and you don't want to get away from that."
Thibodeau knows that veterans' names, especially those of Mike Dunleavy and Kirk Hinrich, will continue to pop up in trade rumors until the deadline -- but he isn't concerned about how they will handle the speculation.
"This league, it's very easy to get distracted," Thibodeau continued. "It is. If you want to look for an excuse to get distracted, you can find one every day. I think the important thing is to build the right habits so you can be ready to play each and every night, and I think the good teams do that. That's the challenge for every team."
Bulls not concerned about Butler: Jimmy Butler spent a portion of Saturday's postgame getting stretched out by a member of the Bulls' training staff. It wasn't one particular injury bothering the third-year swingman, just general soreness. After playing so many minutes over the past few weeks, Butler's body isn't the only thing that has been hurting. His shooting woes continued Saturday night, as he went just 2-for-7 from the field. This is the first prolonged shooting slump of his career, but Thibodeau is confident he will bounce out of it soon.
"This is probably the first time he's gone through something like this," Thibodeau said before Saturday's game. "He'll bounce out of it. Just come in every day, don't press. Like I told him, 'If it's your shot, shoot it. Shoot it. As long as you shoot it well, that's all you can ask for. If the ball goes in and out on you, it goes in and out.' Hey look, if you shoot great in this league you're missing half your shots. It's not an easy league to shoot in. I think a couple easy baskets will help."
The last word: Mike James ' daughter, Amaya, sang the national anthem last Monday before the game against the Los Angeles Lakers. The proud papa was pleased with how well his young daughter performed in front of a packed United Center.
"It wasn't that I was nervous," he said recently. "I just wanted her to perform well, and I just wanted her to have fun. Sometimes, when a person puts too much pressure on themselves, they can't perform and that's from any age group to any environment. My biggest thing is, I don't think that [her] voice came from me. That's definitely God-given, but all I can do is help her in her confidence and help her believe in her ability. That's one thing -- if she don't get nothing else from her daddy -- she gets her daddy's confidence."