Neil Funk and Stacey King bring you behind-the-scenes insight and commentary on WGN's Chicago Bulls "BullsEye" blog. Also check out video of player interviews, photo galleries, and unique Bulls statistics from STATS, Inc.

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Heading Down the Stretch

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The season is drawing to a close and the end of the regular schedule is in sight.   This is the time that teams look at their positioning and assess what is realistic as far as how high they can advance and what teams they might match up against in the post-season.

The Bulls are currently 6th in the Eastern Conference and would face the New York Knicks if the season ended today.   The Bulls schedule seems to be very favorable...with 11 games remaining, the Bulls play 8 games against non-playoff teams.   They are within 2 games of Brooklyn in the 4th spot.

The key for the remaining 11 games, however, is for the Bulls to get healthy.   This team has not been a streaky team...they have won no more than 3 games in a row, but they have had only one 3-game losing streak all season.    So, as the season winds down, I think you will see Tom Thibodeau rest guys to make sure everyone is healthy at season's end.

Are the Bulls Play-off Ready?

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 The simple answer to that question is "No".

And the reason for that is due to the current health situation of the team.  When you are down 2 starters and your best bench player, it creates a chain reaction.   The bench players have to play starters minutes and it shortens the bench rotation.

Ideally, you want to get everyone healthy with about 10 games remaining so you can re-establish rhythm and chemistry.

Getting healthy and rested are the 2 keys to being able to play your best basketball going into the play-offs.

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50 and Counting

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Last Sunday, Michael Jordan celebrated his 50th birthday, as did the rest of the NBA.  It was an occasion to remember some of the great moments and highlights of Jordan's Hall of Fame career.   When I look back, I remember how every night had the potential to be a night of greatness.   I suppose that the play-off games were more memorable for me.   It seemed that whenever it was required, Michael was there to take over a game or win it with a last shot.

Tonight, we are in Charlotte where Michael is the principle owner of the Bobcats...his 2nd go-around in the front office.   Since his GM days in Washington, I think MJ is smarter from that experience and I think success will come eventually.  

Jordan will always be part of the Bulls franchise having had the immeasurable success which translated into 6 championships.   Who knows, maybe someday Michael will return to the Bulls in some capacity, but until that happens we always will have the memories.

Getting Through the Injuries

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The recent spate of injuries hitting the Bulls in the last 10 days has once again tested the mettle of head coach Tom Thibodeau.   Kirk Hinrick, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer have all missed games....on top of Derrick Rose's absence all season.

That the Bulls have been able to win a couple of these games is due to two factors: the type of players on the roster and Tom's ability to have his players prepared, ready and motivated.

This roster is comprised of men who are committed, team players who know that they must be ready when their time comes and are able to take advantage of the opportunity.

Remember, too, that Tom preaches defense first and when you can defend as a team, you are likely to be in games near the end and have the chance to win.

The NBA's Christmas Present

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for neil_funk.jpgThe slate of games on Christmas Day has become, maybe the NBA's premier marquee event, at least as far as the regular season goes.   Look no further back than last season when the league elected to open the lockout-delayed season on Christmas Day with their full slate of games, including Miami vs Dallas and the Bulls at the LA Lakers.  

The Christmas Day games provides the league a perfect showcase for its greatest stars and teams.  There was a time when the players weren't all that excited to travel on Christmas Eve and play on Christmas Day, but today's stars realize how important this showcase has become for the NBA to grow its product and reach out to new fans.

For me personally, I have seen the impact that Christmas Day games have made nationwide, and also how those appearances have energized the local fan bases...starting with the 76ers in the 1980s, to the Bulls' Championship teams of the 1990s and now that the Bulls are once again one of the premier teams in the are seeing them appear in Christmas Day games for the 3rd year in a row.

Getting In and Staying In

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It's no secret that head coach Tom Thibodeau plays a short rotation, generally 3 or 4 deep on the bench.  It can be tough for young players to get game minutes, but Tom expects his young players to earn their minutes in practice.   They are expected to arrive early, stay late and work with the assistants on various aspects of their game.   Then, when their name is called, they have to be ready and they have to contribute.  

You can the see the results of Jimmy Butler's work ethic paying off this season.   Butler is averaging nearly 18 minutes a game.   Maybe his breakout game last season was a February match-up with the Knicks at Madison Square Garden where he was called upon to guard Carmelo Anthony.   Butler performed well and earned Tom Thibodeau's trust in a big-game situation.

Marquis Teague has not had his "breakout" game yet, but he has performed well when called upon.  Tonight could be an interesting situation if Marquis gets into the game against his older brother, Jeff, who is the Hawks' starting point guard.

Rip Injury Presents Options

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Rip Hamilton's injury on Saturday will keep him out for a few games, possibly 3 or 4, about a week.  Coach Tom Thibodeau has a number of options to fill in during Rip's absence and tonight it will be Marco Belinelli.  Marco has been a starter in the league before.  He can provide offense, which the Bulls need.   His 3-point shooting will open the floor for others.   His long range shooting has been pretty good thus far...he's at 41% which leads the team, but he hasn't gotten all that many shots just yet.

Another option is Jimmy Butler, but Tom Thibodeau would prefer to keep him coming in off the bench with the 2nd unit, pairing with Taj Gibson to provide the energy that they have been bringing all season.   If given a chance to start, he offers a number of elements that Tom values....defense, rebounding and not taking bad shots.

Lastly, Tom could move Kirk Hinrich to the shooting guard and pair him with Nate Robinson at the point.   I don't see this happening unless the opponent features a smaller guard tandem that Tom would like to match up with.

Rebounding From the LA game

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The loss to the Clippers on Saturday night was the first blowout loss of the season for the Bulls.  You are going to suffer through four or five of those losses each season.   And on the other hand, you are going to win a number of those games as well.   You have to recognize that the true measure of your team lies somewhere in the middle.   Tom Thibodeau knows this...what's why he nevers looks ahead or behind in his preparation for each game.

Certainly Tom saw a number of things in the Clipper game that he would like the Bulls to improve.   You can see that he addressed the turn-over situation at halftime as the Bulls had 12 in the first half and only 4 in the second half.

I am sure in the over-time win in Phoenix, Tom found some things that he would like to improve upon.  It's that nightly approach that has made the Bulls so successful over the last 2 years.  

Circus Trip Relief

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This is the time of year that the Bulls vacate the United Center for their early trip to the West Coast.   Taking a look at how the schedule lays out...the Bulls have only 1 back-to-back on this trip, and 3 occasions with 2 consecutive days off.   Clearly the schedule this year favors the Bulls compared to other years when they played as many as 7 games in 11 nights with a slew of back-to-back contests.

This works well for head coach Tom Thibodeau's desire to get in practice time between games and it gives the players a chance to rest and recharge between games.

The Bulls make 3 trips to the West Coast instead of the usual 2, and that creates the situation that will give the Bulls a chance to be successful on the road.

Front And Center

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In the first two games of the season, the Bulls' Bigs - starters Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer - have taken up the role of leading scorers in Derrick Rose's absence.   This is a product of Tom Thibodeau's game plan, which is to play inside out.    Move the ball inside for the first scoring option.

Noah and Boozer are in their 3rd season playing together and you can see how comfortable they have become with each other.   They are great passers, unselfish and have made big contributions to the team's good start.