Bulls first to reach 40 wins
The Chicago Bulls are in the postseason. They're the first team to lock up a playoff berth and reach 40 victories.
Their success is no surprise after they led the NBA with 62 regular-season victories last season and had both the MVP in Derrick Rose and coach of the year in Tom Thibodeau.
But this season they've maneuvered through a series of injuries and still found a way to post the NBA's best mark with 16 games left in the regular season.
Rose missed his sixth straight game Saturday night with a groin injury and has been unable to go 16 times this season with an assortment of injuries, including earlier ones to a sprained left toe and sore back.
The Bulls are 12-4 without their best player, thanks to a deep bench - a must in this lockout-shortened schedule with so many games bunched together.
''It's definitely hard but, at the same time I'm happy they are playing great. We're winning games,'' Rose said. ''Of course I want to be out there. I hate being injured, but right now we're in a good groove.''
Richard Hamilton, acquired to give the Bulls a shooting guard to complement Rose's aggressive drives to the basket, has played in only 16 games because of a variety of injuries, the latest to his shoulder.
And Luol Deng, who made the game-winning basket at the buzzer in overtime Saturday night to give Chicago a 102-101 win over Toronto, has been playing with a torn ligament in his left wrist and missed nine games earlier this season.
Rose's backup, C.J. Watson, has also had a series of injuries causing him to be out for 17 games.
The bench has bailed out the Bulls numerous times.
Watson has played well with Rose out and another backup point guard, John Lucas III, has provided a spark with his quickness and shooting.
The Bulls also have an effective inside scorer, rebounder and defender off the bench in Taj Gibson, who could start for many NBA teams, a 3-point shooting threat in Kyle Korver and an improved backup at center in Omer Asik.
Should Hamilton return to the lineup, versatile Ronnie Brewer could return to a reserve role. The ability to go from starter to reserve and vice versa has been a key.
''I think having the right attitude and approach is the first step and the most important step,'' Thibodeau said of his bench's effectiveness.
''Everybody stays ready. We feel very good about our bench. When somebody has faced a new challenge, they've responded well.''
Watson and Brewer have been starters at times during their careers, even before arriving in Chicago.
''When they go into a starting role, they handle that well,'' Thibodeau said.
''The best thing about it is when they are in the rotation playing shorter minutes they've played well in short minutes, too. I think that is difficult to do, to be able to play well in both situations.''
Thibodeau was not happy with the team's performance Saturday night, the second time in three nights the Bulls had to rally late to beat the 16-win Raptors. He didn't like his team's rebounding, defense, offense and readiness to play. Still, the Bulls won.
And Chicago played the second half without center Joakim Noah, who got two technical fouls - one for throwing a ball in the direction of an official - and was ejected late in the second quarter.
Noah could face disciplinary action and the Bulls might be even more short-handed going into Monday night's game against Denver. Chicago has won four straight and is 5-1 in its latest stretch without Rose.
With a month left in the regular season, they hope to be at full strength by the playoffs, where they were beaten by Miami in the conference finals a year ago. The Bulls, 20-4 at home and 20-6 on the road, will be shooting for the best record a second straight season.
But they won't rush Rose, who has averaged 22.8 points and eight assists. He's done some light shooting. As well as they've played with him in street clothes, they need him on the floor, especially in the postseason.
''We want to make sure he's completely healthy,'' Thibodeau said.