- Melissa Isaacson, ESPN Staff Writer
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But for now?
The Bulls' playoff experience -- or comparative lack thereof -- means very little, and here's why:
They're really not as inexperienced as they are made out to be.
If Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah are examples of playoff newbies, everyone should wish for such inexperience. Two hard-fought -- and, in one case, epic -- battles in first-round series over the past two years should not be discounted. Noah arrived as a serious NBA player by the end of the Boston series two years ago, and Rose improved exponentially.
Yes, maybe Kurt Thomas and Brian Scalabrine are the only Bulls players to have played in an NBA Finals, but Thomas has played in 89 playoff games and has been in eight winning series. Carlos Boozer has played in 44 playoff games and won four series. He also has made it to a conference championship, as has Ronnie Brewer. Luol Deng made it to the second round.
"The only way you get there is by getting there," Tom Thibodeau said.
In other words, if they get to the conference finals, they will have picked up valuable experience.
The idea of paying dues is fine, but this isn't a case of a skinny Scottie Pippen coming out of Central Arkansas and getting beaten up by the Pistons. The Bulls' key players have played in big games and played well.
"If anything," Rose said of not making it past the first round, "it makes you more hungry. You want to get farther than you did last year. ... I just want to know how it feels."
Preparation trumps all.
If we have to be told now after 62 victories that the Bulls were well prepared all season, we really have not been paying attention.
How has the regular season readied them for the playoffs?
The Bulls never lost three games in a row. They played under adversity and triumphed. They rarely, if ever, mailed it in, even when key injuries might have excused it. And, lest we forget, they played playoff-type defense all season.
Thanks to Thibodeau, the Bulls prepared for games during the season like some teams prepare for the playoffs.
"You think about all the things you're going to have to do at the end and try to establish that during the course of the year so that when you get to the playoffs, you don't have to make adjustments," Thibodeau said. "You're used to studying and preparing for each opponent like it was a playoff game, so when you get there, there's no change."
Did we mention Thibodeau?
When he was named the Bulls' coach last summer -- the second straight hire with no previous head-coaching experience -- that fact was easily digested thanks to Thibs' 20 years of NBA experience.
Better yet, Thibodeau teams have advanced to the postseason 14 times, and he has been on the bench for 158 NBA playoff games, including three NBA Finals. That does not include his work as an advance scout for the 1991-92 Seattle SuperSonics, who reached the Western Conference semifinals.
"Thibodeau, I'm not going to lie, he's a tough coach," Noah said. "He doesn't take anything lightly. He's very big on time and things like that. But at the end of the day, there's a big picture for him. He's somebody who has experienced winning a championship, and for me, that's really a beautiful thing."
If we're to believe him, Thibodeau claims that adjustments come playoff time are overrated.
"I think there's more made of that than actually happens," he said. "The biggest changes, when you get to the playoffs, is you're just playing the same team over and over again. That's the biggest change. But the game part, you don't change who you are, you're not going to change your defense, you're not going to change your offense.
"You'll add a wrinkle here or there, but that will be about it. It's going to be how well you can execute and what type of habits you establish throughout the year."
There are more important things than playoff experience.
This is not necessarily a good thing. Rose's health, for instance, will be in jeopardy every time he drives to the basket and is in danger of being met by someone who thinks playoff-caliber defense means a vicious undercut.
This is where Thomas should come in handy with a quick lesson in playoff retribution. The non-fineable kind, of course.
Rose says not to worry.
"I think my body should do well in the playoffs," he said of his workout regimen. "Trust me, I'll be ready."
Trusting him is not the issue. And there is little doubt he will be ready. As he said, "In the playoffs, anything can happen."
He meant that in a good way.
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
31mMichael C. Wright