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Tuesday, January 31

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Bulls Wed Jan 25 2012

As The Bulls Turn: Injuries Mount Up, Start Resistance Movement

Thumbnail image for chicagobulls.pngAn ongoing theme in Tom Thibodeau's tenure as Bulls head coach has been his approach to every regular season game: Just win, baby. Thibs, for better or for worse, has taken this Davis-ism as seemingly his own personal mantra. Running his stars for needless minutes during the tail end of last season's regular season, there were a lot of raised eyebrows and agog expressions around Chicago's water coolers, "Why risk the injury?" "What is he trying to prove?"

Fast forward to this season and the fans and media-types alike are still trying to learn what exactly Thibodeau is trying to prove. The Bulls are off to an incredible pace, dropping a mere three games in their first 19, still, the injuries continue to rack up. Deng's wrist injury is the latest to an already impressive array of dings and bumps in the triage unit that is the Bulls roster: Noah (slight ankle ding), Taj (ankle), Rose (toe sprain/turf toe), Rip (groin), these are normal dings that will accumulate through the course of a regular season, but the compounded 66-game season is magnifying the injuries. The Bulls' stellar early season record which is, let's be honest, a testament to the Bulls depth and a mildly generous early season schedule --10 of their first 19 games have been against teams with sub-.500 records-- may not be so stellar if Thibs continues this Ahab-esque quest for "more minutes, win every regular season game."

Thibodeau's passion and hunger for wins should not be questioned, his in-game strategies, his team's defense, the fact that players are so willing to play so hard while injured for him? These are good things. For the NBA's reigning Coach of the Year the question is more, when will he realize that to see the forest (a CHAMPIONSHIP) for the trees (regular season wins), rest is okay for his starters and stars. When will he recognize that it's okay to give CJ Watson more than 14 minutes of run in a throwaway game against the New Jersey Nets on a Monday in January? Instead of having a just back from injury Rose dump in 36 minutes on a gimpy toe? Recovering from an injury is vastly different than "rest" and Thibs needs to recognize that while Deng nurses his wrist back to health, he won't be resting in the sense of taking it easy. He won't be practicing or working out the way he would normally had he not gotten injured. Big if not obvious difference, I know, but Thibs doesn't necessarily recognize it.

This is Tom Thibodeau's first time under the bright spotlight of being a head coach, let alone a head coach on one of the NBA's most prized and high-profile franchises. Maybe this fascination of running players was masked by the likes of Doc Rivers and Jeff Van Gundy before him. Maybe, hopefully, Thibs will learn sooner rather than later, that players can use the rest more than the extra stats. [Afterall, Bobby Knight did learn to stop hurling feces at "uppity" freshmen to establish dominance. -Ed.]

The Bulls have some money in the bank, so to speak, with their cushion on the rest of the Eastern Conference and Thibodeau would be well served to give his starters some rest between now and the All-Star Game, not only for the sake of them having some fresh legs in a deep playoff run. But to allow his bench players to develop more, to grow some confidence and realize they can run with other team's stars.

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