Tired vibe emanates from winning Bulls locker room

INDIANAPOLIS -- Jimmy Butler hit the winning shot in Tuesday night's 98-96 win over the Indiana Pacers, giving his beleaguered Bulls teammates a victory they desperately needed as they cling to faint playoff hopes, now two games behind the Pacers for the final spot in the Eastern Conference race.

After it was over, the Bulls didn't look or sound like a group ecstatic to keep its playoff hopes alive. They didn't celebrate as if this was the start of the momentum they've been searching for most of the season. The vibe in the locker room seemed like that of a team that is just ready to get the season over with. As Butler described how "big" it was for the Bulls to get a win after a stretch in which they had dropped four in a row, a reporter deadpanned to him that he seemed excited by the proceedings.

"Who me?" Butler said as a small smile crossed his face. "I'm tired, boss."

It's understandable that they weren't exactly jumping off the walls after an ugly win in Game 74 of a lost season. But the vibe in the quiet locker room encapsulated what a strange emotional ride this team has been through all season. The highs aren't always high enough and the lows aren't as low they as they could be.

The Bulls' front office has prided itself on the fact this team has qualified for the playoffs seven seasons in a row. The belief within the organization is that this streak is one of the reasons free agents will want to sign in Chicago in the future. The consistency of playoff appearances will be a selling point to any prospective free agents moving forward. But when asked if players take pride in the fact the Bulls have gone to the playoffs seven years in a row and if they think about that streak down the stretch, Butler was honest in his assessment.

"Nah," he said. "You can't really focus on the past. You got to focus on the right now. We want to get into the playoffs. So we can't worry about how many years we've been there, how many years we haven't. We just got to focus on winning these games we have in hand and hopefully end up in the playoffs."

Bulls point guard Derrick Rose says he thinks about the playoff streak "here and there," but when asked what it would mean to this group to get to the playoffs after a season of so many ups and downs, Rose acknowledged that he wasn't sure what the right answer was.

"I don't know," he said. "It could spark something. I really don't know. This year -- it's been up and down. Who knows in the playoffs? We could get things rolling by coming together, but it's going to take us getting there to do it."

Butler was asked if he felt the players were on the same page more after Sunday's team meeting.

"We better be," Butler said. "Because we got to be in this together. That's the only way that we're going to win games. This was a team effort tonight. Yeah, guys had big games like Niko [Mirotic], but little plays like [Mike Dunleavy's] charge or Aaron [Brooks] throwing a great pass to Niko for a 3. Everybody's got to be in it together and know where everybody's going to be on the floor."

The Bulls deserve credit for digging down late in Tuesday's game and finding a way to win. But these players, especially the core of guys like Rose, Butler and veteran Taj Gibson, know that the result of one game doesn't mean the Bulls have turned some proverbial corner. They aren't sure what to expect night to night from the group, either. Rose says he believes his team is more unified now, but he has also learned in these situations that talk is cheap.

"For sure more than a couple weeks ago," Rose said of having everybody on the same page. "We're desperate right now. But we're going to see how it is next game. I could sit here and say this and say that, but it's going to take action."