CHICAGO -- If it's true that every team takes a little of its personality from its head coach, then it's safe to say that the Chicago Bulls sound a lot like Tom Thibodeau.
When you watch the Bulls lately, you realize that they are starting to play the way the first-year coach wants them to. They are aggressive, and they try to force teams into making bad decisions. They did that again on Saturday night in a 103-96 victory over Washington, forcing the Wizards into 23 turnovers, the second time in as many games they've accomplished that feat.
When you listen to the Bulls speak, you realize that Thibodeau's influence has spread even quicker than expected. Players never seem to be particularly thrilled with their collective performance because they know that Thibodeau won't allow that. Sure, they took care of business by winning their past three games before heading off on the always brutal circus trip, but who cares? They aren't worried about the trip, they're just worried about playing the Houston Rockets on Tuesday and going from there.
The Bulls seem to have gained the one thing they lacked at times this season.
"Discipline," Bulls point guard Derrick Rose said, when asked about what Thibodeau has brought to the table. "Everybody's disciplined on defense. We're still learning on the defensive end what Tibs wants us to do, but I think we're helping a lot better than in years where I've been here and we can still get better."
The Bulls may very well lead the league in tired cliches this season, but that is a stat Thibodeau would be proud of. Over the past three games, his team has played like he coaches: hard-nosed, hard-charging and, well, disciplined. They've taken care of business, but they know they can't stop figuring out how to improve.
"I was worried about this game, the last before going out on the road," Thibodeau said. "... [Gilbert] Arenas got hot, and I thought we got fortunate because I did not like the way we defended at all in the second half. Our rebounding was poor from the start of the game."
Remember, Thibodeau's team actually won the game.
"I am obviously pleased with the win. I'm not really concerned about the road trip. I'm concerned about practice and then Houston. All the stuff about going on the road and the circus, I'm not concerned about that. I'm just worried about the next game."
It sounds like Thibodeau has programmed his players the same way.
"We got to take it one at a time," Bulls forward Luol Deng said. "We can't think about it as a road trip. It's just a bunch of away games. We got to focus on one team at a time."
That sounds familiar ...
"We stayed disciplined for these last three games," Rose said. "We know that this trip is going to be tough, but we're going to take it one game at a time."
The key for the Bulls is that the players have completely bought into what Thibodeau is selling. They trust that he knows exactly what they have to do to get to where they want to go. After watching them grind through another win on Saturday night, it's hard to argue with the recent results.
"He's very experienced," Deng said of Thibodeau. "He's been doing this for a while, and he's trying to get us to a certain level. He sees something special in us. He's always on us, and we've got to take that challenge and try to get there."
The last word: Rose, on who he would take in a race, himself or Wizards guard John Wall:
"He's faster. He's younger. I'm going with Wall."