AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Vinny Del Negro has a few expressions that he likes to use all the time.
Like many coaches, Del Negro always throws some variation of coach-speak into most answers while trying to explain a certain point.
When he's searching for the right word or phrase to back up what's he's saying, he'll reach for one of these verbal crutches. It's an understandable exercise, considering he is generally answering a variation of the same question several times a day.
After Sunday night's 110-103 victory over the Pistons though, there is one particular Del Negro quote that seems to be more apropos than the rest – "It’s never easy."
Del Negro used that very quote on Sunday to describe his team’s win over Detroit, particularly the team’s second-half performance, when the Bulls had to withstand a late Pistons’ run.
Del Negro uses that quote frequently to describe his team's performance, but it was especially true against a lowly Pistons squad that has seemingly mailed it in for the rest of the season. The win, which was the Bulls fourth in the last five games, and pulled them to within just a half game of Toronto for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, served as a microcosm for the Bulls' season in many ways.
Derrick Rose and company surged ahead early and appeared to be on their way to an easy victory, leading by 18 points at halftime. Then they let the Pistons crawl back into the contest by falling asleep for a while on defense and refusing to put the dagger into a Detroit, who looked generally disinterested from the outset. Finally, when the Bulls needed it, they made a few shots, (many by veteran Flip Murray, who led the team with 27 points) and closed out the Pistons before things got even more out of control.
In the end though, with just nine games left in the season, Del Negro and his team don't really care how they got the win. They just care that they did.
"It's right here," Rose said of the playoff berth that is well within reach now. "Everybody is just coming and playing hard. We're playing defense right now, trying to rebound the ball and run. That's the way that we play."
Of course, the Bulls also play so up-and-down during most games that it could give you motion sickness. They are certainly playing much better than they did over the last month (which obviously has to do with the fact that a healthy Rose and Joakim Noah are back in the lineup), but there is no telling exactly what kind of team you'll see from night to night.
To borrow another Del Negro catchphrase, though, there are no easy games. And that's why he was just happy to get out of town with a win.
"I know we have to win games," he said. "Any way you want to look at it, I have to focus in on our next game -- Phoenix. Prepare us the best. There are no easy games, like I always say. And Phoenix is obviously a huge test for us. What happens with the [other] teams, I can't control. I can just control our preparation and try to get these guys ready to go."
For better or worse, the Bulls are probably as ready as they're going to be. Sure, they would like to play a more complete game, but as Del Negro would be the first to tell you, a win is a win.
"We played decent," Noah said. "We just got to keep it up, keep fighting. We're playing against a better opponent on Tuesday. Every game is a big test. Toronto lost today, we're pretty aware of that. We're right where we want to be. We just got to keep fighting."
That's exactly the attitude that Del Negro has continually preached all year.
"Anything's possible," he said before the game. "You never know. We need to keep our guys healthy. Get Luol [Deng] back as soon as possible. Just keep on trying to find ways. Every game will bring a different challenge and a different situation to us. At the end of it, we'll add them up and see where we're at."
Where the Bulls are at right now is in a pretty good place. The team knows it basically controls its own destiny. If they keep winning, they'll more than likely work themselves into a playoff berth. But, as they've proven so many times, there are no guarantees about anything, good or bad, regarding Bulls basketball this season.
So the next time you hear Del Negro say "it's never easy,” cut him a little slack.
If you've watched this team at all this season you know exactly what he's talking about.