Lofty win total has Bulls wanting more

CHICAGO -- Tom Thibodeau really is a much nicer guy than he looks when he's crouching, yelling and gesticulating on the basketball court. And despite his reputation as a shoot-around sadist, the kind of coach who answers every injury question with some version of "I think he's fine," I've heard people describe Thibodeau as a players' coach. Provided those players are tough, of course.

He's certainly a revelation as a coach, the best in the league this season in many people's opinion.

But everything you need to know about Thibodeau's intense drive, and why the Bulls are where they are, could be found on the dry erase board at the center of the Bulls' locker room after their 97-92 come-from-behind, season-ending win over the New Jersey Nets on Wednesday night.

The marker board was where Thursday's schedule was posted and it didn't say "day off" or "take a whirlpool" or "Rasual Butler Appreciation Day."

Instead it read, "Treatment at 2, practice at 4." After all, Chicago hosts the Indiana Pacers at noon Saturday.

The Bulls rarely practiced after back-to-back games this season, but this was a clear sign the regular season is over.

Good luck making the start of that 7 p.m. fundraiser for President Obama's re-election at Navy Pier, Derrick Rose.

Before the game, someone asked Thibodeau what he thought of the Bulls-Pacers' noon start time Saturday, a particularly undesirable slot, Thibodeau looked annoyed.

"I don't even know what it is," he said.

After the game, he admitted, with a laugh, it's OK to talk about the Pacers now. Just don't get him started on Game 2.

Thibodeau, the first-year head coach who put in nearly 20 years in the league to get this opportunity, was also asked what the team's epic 62-20 record represented.

"I think it means we had a pretty good regular season," he said. "But now you start over again. You're zero-and-zero. We have to understand how we got here. We took care of the things we could take care of, and now we have to prepare for the playoffs."

Rose, who is on the cusp of winning what is probably the biggest personal honor in team sports, the MVP of the NBA, wasn't crowing about the team's regular season either.

"It's over with," he said. "I'm not worried about it anymore. I'm happy. I'm definitely happy. I wouldn't like to be on a losing team. But what's the point of celebrating now and you get knocked out of the playoffs? There's no point. There's no point of us even doing good in the regular season if we lose in the first round of the playoffs."

You can't predict a series from quotes, but I don't think Danny Granger's boasting is going to be prescient.

Granger, the Pacers' best player, recently said his team would rather face the Bulls than the Boston Celtics.

"That's his opinion," Rose said. "I got winners on my team and winners know how to win."

It seems like just yesterday that Rose listed his goals at the team media day.

"The way I look at it, within myself, why can't I be the MVP of the league?" he said. "Why can't I be the best player in the league? Why? Why can't I do that?"

That quote has been repeated since he made it in late September. Less famously, Rose also said this: "We want to be one of the best teams in the NBA. There are no excuses now. We've got everything new -- new players and new coaches. We've just got to go out there and hold everybody accountable and just play hard the whole game, and the whole season."

Rose predicted the season in two quotes.

Now he's the budding MVP and the Bulls are one of the best teams in the NBA.
But whether it is Thibodeau's mind-meld tactics or the players' natural hunger for success, it's evident they're not complacent with success.

"I don't think that changes anything," Joakim Noah said. "At the end of the day, the best record doesn't help you win a basketball game. You've got to go in there with the mindset that you've got to be on edge for 48 minutes, be really focused and understand it's going to be tough."

Rose just wants to get this first series underway.

"I'm even more anxious right now, because I've never been in the situation, in the NBA, where I'm the top seed," he said. "The last two years we were always the underdogs, so I'll have to see how this is going to go. Just to see how things are going to play. Guys, the media, are going to put you ahead because of who you're playing. That really gets to the other team. … There's definitely going to be pressure. I'm just anxious to see how we're going to handle it."

You're not the only one, Derrick. To paraphrase the guy Rose might be missing Thursday, the Bulls are truly the ones Chicago's sports fans have been waiting for.
And now it's time to show up.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.