MUSICK: Surrounded by noise, Bulls try to keep focus
DEERFIELD – Imagine a child covering his or her ears and shouting to avoid hearing your words.
“LA LA LA LA LA!”
Now imagine that child being 55-year-old Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau.
“LA LA LA LA LA!”
Now imagine that child being 32-year-old Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich.
“LA LA LA LA LA!”
That’s pretty much what it sounded like after the Bulls practiced Wednesday at the Berto Center.
The bruised-and-bandaged Bulls can advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals with a win Thursday against the Brooklyn Nets. The Bulls lead the first-round playoff series, 3-2, and want desperately to avoid a winner-take-all Game 7 on Saturday in the heart of Brooklyn.
If the Nets do manage to force a Game 7, it’s safe to say the Barclays Center will be jet-engine loud this weekend.
The Bulls have heard enough noise this week as it is.
Some of the noise arrived in the form of bulletin-board quotes that often emerge before big games. Nets forward Gerald Wallace and center Andray Blatche both publicly declared that the Bulls were the inferior team in the series regardless of the results after five playoff contests.
“There’s no doubt in our mind we are the better team,” Blatche told the New York Daily News on Wednesday. “We’re just in a hole.”
Thibodeau “LA LA LA”-d a question about whether Blatche’s comments would motivate the Bulls.
“If we have to rely on that, …” Thibodeau said, trailing off. “To me, it’s meaningless.”
Not so meaningless was what TNT analyst Steve Kerr had to say.
Kerr played 15 seasons in the NBA, including five seasons with the Bulls, and he served as the Phoenix Suns general manager before returning to a broadcast role. He is cautious and thoughtful with his analysis, which is why it spoke volumes Monday when he called on Derrick Rose to return.
Rose has practiced for months while insisting that he is not yet ready to return to game action following his torn ACL in last season’s playoff opener. Rose has looked great in practice and during pregame shooting drills, but he has watched from the sidelines during the playoffs while teammates such as Joakim Noah, Hinrich, Taj Gibson and others have tried to play despite various injuries.
“If Derrick is OK and there’s no threat to further injury, I think he’s got to play,” Kerr said during Game 5. “He has to put himself out there for 15 to 20 minutes.
“Look at what Noah and Hinrich are putting themselves through with their injuries. I think it’s time for Derrick. … Maybe he owes it to his teammates, I guess that’s what I’m saying.”
Rose’s teammates certainly could use the help.
Hinrich did not practice Wednesday because of a calf injury and limped badly on his way toward reporters, so it’s tough to imagine him playing in Game 6. Gibson and Luol Deng also missed practice because of illness, although Thibodeau seemed less concerned about their availability.
Meanwhile, Noah continues to play despite a painful case of plantar fasciitis in his right foot.
As Hinrich heard a condensed version of Kerr’s comments, he prepared to “LA LA LA.”
“We don’t feel that way,” Hinrich said. “It’s been a very difficult year for Derrick. I’ve never experienced any sort of injury like that, and I’m not one to speak on how anybody else’s body feels.
“We know what kind of guy he is and we know what kind of teammate he is.”
At least for now, Rose is more of a cheerleader than a teammate.
It’s remarkable how well the Bulls have done without him. Although scoring has been sparse, Thibodeau’s defense-first approach has kept the Bulls competitive throughout the season.
Thibodeau cracked a rare joke when asked about Rose’s playing status for Game 6.
“There’s always a chance,” Thibodeau said before a momentary pause. “Small as it might be.”
Yet Thibodeau turned serious as he defended his MVP point guard for the umpteenth time.
“There’s a big difference between the type of injury that he’s had and all these other injuries,” Thibodeau said. “We certainly appreciate what all the other guys are doing, but Derrick has had a very serious injury that requires time. He’s 24 years old. We’re not going to rush him back.
“[Until] he’s completely comfortable, I don’t want him out there. If that means we wait another game, if that means we wait until next year, so be it.”
For a moment, everything was quiet.
As Thibodeau walked away, the noise resumed.
• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @tcmusick.