MINNEAPOLIS – Take the emotions out of it.
Take the record against elite teams, the quality of play since the All-Star Break, all the outside noise of what this Bulls team can’t do, and “flush that sh–down the toilet.”
That was the message from veteran Tristan Thompson with the regular season now in the rear view mirror.
“You have to,” Thompson said on Sunday. “You don’t flush all that sh–down the toilet now … next week is the final exam. Nothing else that’s happened to this point matters. If you let it, you’re in trouble.”
Besides being suddenly well-versed in plumbing issues, Thompson also has an NBA championship ring on the resume. He’s not alone, either. Alex Caruso collected a ring with the Lakers, and coach Billy Donovan has heard “One Shining Moment” a few times when he was coaching at the University of Florida.
There’s title pedigree in the Bulls locker room.
But there’s also reality.
As much as the veterans with playoff experience have been trying to will this group out of the rut they endured the last few months, words and stories about what happened in 2016 only carry so much weight.
That carries scars.
The one that stands out the most, directly on the forehead of this team is the 1-20 record this season against real NBA contenders in Milwaukee, Miami, Philadelphia, Boston, Memphis, Phoenix and Golden State.
The only win over that group came against the Celtics, but that was way back on Nov. 1. As a matter of fact, the last time the Bulls beat a team that was currently sitting with a .600 winning percentage or better came on Nov.10, when they beat Dallas.
Against the top four teams from both conferences the Bulls were an embarrassing 2-21 combined.
The other reason there’s so much doom and gloom hovering over them is not only have elite teams beaten the Bulls, but in most cases, especially the last month, they’ve taken them out to the woodshed.
A team’s best basketball is supposed to be played in April, leading into the playoffs. The Bulls have worked backwards, seemingly playing their best basketball around the holidays and then falling straight on their faces.
So how does Thompson expect this group to be able to block out all the negative noise from the outside, forget the 23 games against the Association’s elite, and become a threat in the postseason?
It’s in the details.
“The preparation for the playoffs is more detail-oriented than anything else,” Thompson said. “It’s not so much physical. Just pay attention to the details. The details is what’s going to be the difference between allowing a team to go on an 8-0 run against us or they score two baskets and you get a big stop. That kind of stuff comes down to the details of knowing the guys you are guarding, the plays you’re running, and how can you blow all that up and make it tough for them.”
A message that coach Billy Donovan has been preaching for weeks, now hoping that it sinks in at some point over the next five days.
“One of the things I’ve been talking about since really coming out of the All-Star Break is the details of the concentration and the focus,” Donovan said. “Whether that’s not giving up second-chance opportunities, whether it’s having an understanding that the other team is in the bonus and not giving silly fouls to get them to the free throw line, not communicating in transition … sometimes in the regular season you can get by with that, but when you’re playing the level of teams you’re playing [in the postseason], there’s no slippage there. That’s the thing I’ve been trying to hammer home with them.”
Time to find out if it resonates. Final exam week is here.