Barkley: Thibs needs to ease up on Bulls

Despite their recent skid, Tom Thibodeau has gotten a lot out of the Rose-less Bulls in the first half of the season. Ned Dishman/NBAE/Getty Images

Charles Barkley says the Chicago Bulls, losers of five of their past seven, are "physically tired" and coach Tom Thibodeau needs to let up a bit to preserve them for the rest of the season.

The Bulls have two players in the NBA's top seven in minutes per game with Luol Deng leading the league (39.6) and Joakim Noah seventh at 38.3. Barkley believes Thibodeau could learn from the way San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich manages his key players, giving them nights off for rest and closely monitoring their minutes.

"I think he has to ease up like Pop a little bit because to me (the Bulls) are still the second-best team in the Eastern Conference," Barkley said Thursday on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN Chicago 1000. "I'm not a Knick believer. I'm not a Knick believer because first of all the Bulls own the Knicks because they hammer them inside. They do a really good job not leaving the three-point shooters and they just pound them inside.

"I think (Thibodeau) has got to take a step back ... there's no need for (Luol Deng to lead the NBA in minutes) especially with them being short-handed without Derrick (Rose). He's got to be like 'Let me look at the big picture. We're going to be one of the two or three best teams in the East, we're good enough to win on the road, obviously we're waiting on Derrick to come back, let me not play these guys to death like I have been doing."

The Bulls have been without Rose all season as he recovers from May knee surgery, but his return this season has come into question after recent comments by the former MVP. Rose said Wednesday he isn't sure when he will return and is willing to sit out the season if he doesn't feel like he's able to play.

"I really don't know," Rose said. "I'm feeling good, but like I said, if it's where it's taking me a long time and I'm still not feeling right, I don't mind missing this year."

With that uncertainty, Barkley said it's important for Thibodeau to keep his players fresh as they await Rose's decision.

"It's a cumulative effect," Barkley said. "You don't know if Derrick is coming back, but if he does come back you want those guys fresh. You don't want those guys exhausted because they can take some of the load off Derrick. I think he does have to take a step back."

If Rose does not come back, Barkley doesn' believe all is lost for the Bulls. He says Chicago, the fourth seed in the East, is capable of reaching the conference finals even without Rose, but said he doesn't give them any shot to get past the Miami Heat.