CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Joakim Noah, the floor is yours.
“Before you start asking any questions, I would like to say I appreciate my teammates for a hard season,” Noah said. “We worked our asses off. Even though it ends on a sad note losing to the Charlotte Bobcats, overall we gave it everything we had. And there are no regrets in that.”
The fourth seed also means the Bulls would draw the Pacers in the second round should they advance, avoiding the two-time defending champion Heat until the conference finals if they make it.
But that’s skipping steps, and coach Tom Thibodeau doesn’t roll that way.
Though the Wizards took two of three during the regular season from the Bulls, the Nets have been the second-best Eastern Conference team behind the Bulls since Jan. 1. The Nets rested all their regulars in losing Wednesday to drop to sixth.
The Bulls didn’t, with Jimmy Butler tying a career-high with five steals in 47 minutes, 55 seconds and Noah logging 42:23.
“I just didn’t think we needed to do that,” Thibodeau said. “D.J. (Augustin) missed a game so I think it was important for him to get minutes. Once you start resting guys, sometimes they get out of rhythm. Our team is well-rested. We’ve been concerned with rest for awhile and we’ve given our guys a lot of days off. I think we’re in great shape.”
Augustin’s 17 points led the Bulls, who went scoreless from the 2:27 mark of regulation to 1:30 left in overtime. They finished the regular season 48-34.
“I’m not going to lie: This is the hardest season I’ve ever been a part of physically and mentally,” Noah said. “But I’m just really proud of everybody, all the work that people put in. You could just tell after every practice, everybody was shooting. Everybody put in extra work to get their games in order. Seriously, I’ve never been around a group of guys who work so hard.”
The work begins anew against the Wizards.
“Tough, tough team, man,” Taj Gibson said. “They gave us so many problems in the regular season. Great shooters. Great bigs in Nene and (Marcin) Gortat. John Wall is playing some great basketball. Bradley Beal is playing great, too. Their bench is loaded.”
But playoffs are what the work is for.
“Like my boy Mike Dunleavy just told me, this is the fruit of our labor,” Noah said. “Now we will have fun in the playoffs.”
Dunleavy, seated nearby, interjected.
“Pretty sure I said it better than that,” he cracked.
Yep, it’s a loose Bulls team for the fun part of the season.