Melo still on Bulls' minds

The Bulls know they're in for a fight Sunday against the Knicks and Carmelo Anthony. AP Photo/Matt York

NEW YORK -- The talk of a quick summer divorce between Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks -- followed quickly by a marriage with the Chicago Bulls -- has subsided in recent weeks.

All parties involved appear to be waiting until the summer to dig deep into plans, especially now that Bulls are on the verge of locking up the three seed in the Eastern Conference and the Knicks have been eliminated from playoff contention. But as the Bulls and Knicks get set to square off against one another on Sunday night, the respect that Tom Thibodeau and his team have for the perennial All-Star is telling.

When asked about the notion that Anthony is a "selfish" offensive player, Thibodeau quickly brushed it aside.

"It's interesting because with USA Basketball, they talk about him being a playmaker," Thibodeau said. "Just making (plays). He scores and if a guy's open he passes the ball. And I think oftentimes it's who he plays with. It's interesting -- a lot of the things you hear about him, I heard about Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce before they came together and won (an NBA championship). And that changes perception. And so what Carmelo's done throughout his career -- he's been one of the elite scorers in this league for a long, long, long time."

Thibodeau was an assistant on Doc Rivers' staff with the Boston Celtics when Garnett, Allen and Pierce helped lead them to a title. He knows what proud veterans can do to help a team -- especially when paired with other solid players -- and would undoubtedly love the chance to coach Anthony in the future. But for the time being, Thibodeau and his players must find a way to keep him in check as they play at Madison Square Garden on Sunday night.

"Make him work for every basket, every dribble, every move he puts down there," Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler said. "Try the best to take him out of his game ... he's tough to guard, I'm not going to lie about that. But, defense is all about effort, the want-to. Just to crowd his space and make it frustrating for him."

Butler loves coming back to the Garden: For Butler, the chance to guard Anthony in such a storied arena will always remind him of one of the biggest games of his career. It was Feb. 2, 2012 -- a contest that would change Butler's career because of the confidence it gave him. He only played 21 minutes and scored just seven points, but he played crucial second-half minutes and played solid defense against Anthony.

"Yeah, I remember that," he said. "That was a big game for me. It started a little confidence boost for me. That was a long time ago to tell you the truth. But it feels good to know that this is where I really started to make a name for myself."

Butler has proven to be one of the best defenders in the league and he knows that particular game helped buoy his confidence.

"A lot," he said. "It got me comfortable. It got me thinking that I really do belong in this league. Now, I kind of know that I belong here."

Rose not in NYC: Bulls guard Derrick Rose did not travel with the Bulls on this trip as he continues his rehab from a torn meniscus in his right knee.

The last word: Butler, on maintaining the three seed: "We want to win as many games as possible. We don't really pay attention to, 'If we win out, this will do this for us in the playoffs, blah, blah, blah ... ' We won't get into that, but we know if we win out we've got 50 wins, and if we win out I think we're in third."