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Approaching playoffs have Bulls' attention

With 17 games left, Tom Thibodeau is starting to think about first-round matchup possibilities. AP Photo/Michael Conroy

DEERFIELD, Ill. -- Tom Thibodeau is all about the task at hand, always preferring to focus on the next challenge the schedule brings, but he admitted Saturday to peeking ahead just a little.

With 17 games remaining in the regular season, counting Saturday night’s matchup against the Sacramento Kings, the playoffs are right around the corner and Thibodeau is not ignoring his team’s first-round matchup possibilities.

“You have to be aware,” Thibodeau said at Saturday morning’s shootaround. “You’re always looking at what’s going on. But the important thing is to concentrate on the things you need to do each day to improve. Go step by step. It’s all a process. You try to build the right habits to prepare yourself to play your best when your best is needed, which is at the end of the year.”

At the start of play Saturday, the Bulls’ 36-29 record made them the fourth best team in the Eastern Conference. If the season ended today, they would be looking at home-court advantage in a first-round matchup with the Brooklyn Nets.

Last season, the Bulls went seven games in the first round before dispatching the Nets, but this year it’s an entirely new team in Brooklyn. Not only that, but the Nets are far different at this point of the season than they were during a rocky start under rookie head coach Jason Kidd.

Thibodeau said it’s almost time for advance scouts to get a first-hand look at all potential opening-round matchups to see what is making each team tick.

“Probably the last 15 games or so, you’re looking at what the possibilities could be,” Thibideau said. “In terms of knowing your opponent well, they have to be expert on every team that you could play. In addition to preparing for the games that you’re playing, they’re starting to gather the information that’s necessary for your notebooks.”

That doesn’t mean the players can peek toward the horizon.

“The advance scouts stay ahead; that’s what their job is, to know everyone well and what the possibilities could be,” Thibodeau said. “For our team, stay locked into each game and every practice. Don’t get ahead. Don’t look behind. Just concentrate on what’s in front of you.”