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.