TORONTO, (Reuters) – The NBA-leading Chicago Bulls remain wary of complacency as they look to close out a dominant regular season, mindful of their premature exit from last year’s playoffs as the top seed.
Chicago have not lost consecutive games all season and carry a 39-10 record with 17 games left, raising their hopes of ending a 14-year title drought.
“We are not satisfied with regular season. Right now we are just getting prepared for what’s yet to come,” Joakim Noah, who leads Chicago in rebounds and blocks per game, said before the Bulls’ 94-82 road win over the Toronto Raptors.
“We want to play our best basketball during the playoffs and just stay focused, stick to our principles and just improve while winning.”
The Bulls do not need any reminders that dominance in the regular season does not guarantee playoff success as they were the top seed last year before falling to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals.
The Bulls’ latest victory, their 14th in the last 16 games, came despite playing without injured starters Derrick Rose and Richard Hamilton. Rose, the NBA’s reigning most valuable player, missed his fifth consecutive game with a sore groin while Hamilton remained out with a sprained right shoulder he suffered two weeks ago.
The injuries have not slowed down the red-hot Bulls as Noah and Carlos Boozer are among a handful of players who have stepped up their game.
“The thing for us is to continue to strive for improvement in all areas because what you’re trying to do is you want to be playing your best basketball at the end of the season,” said the Bulls’ Tom Thibodeau, who earlier this week became the fastest NBA coach to 100 career wins when he set the mark in his 130th game.
“You want to build the right habits, you’re also trying to be as healthy as possible. We know we have a long way to go.”
The Bulls need only to look at the standings to find motivation, with Miami nipping at their heels for the conference lead.
“Always stay on edge and never feel good about yourself. That’s one thing about our team, we always play with edge,” said Bulls forward Taj Gibson.