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One for all

Heading into the biggest game of the season, the Bulls know all they have is each other

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By Sam Smith | 4.2.201 | 3:20 p.m.

Pssst, pass it on. Derrick doesn’t like Jimmy.

Did you hear, Pau doesn’t like Derrick.

Did you know Jo was mad at Pau.

Hey, how about Jimmy hating Fred like that!

“They need to just shut up,” an exasperated Taj Gibson told reporters after Bulls practice Friday when asked about reports in nmedia that coach Fred Hoiberg didn’t fit with the Bulls. “Everybody tries to discredit this man, and it’s rough. He’s a rookie coach taking on a veteran group. Give him some slack. It’s hard enough as it is to come in. You’ve got the whole city of Chicago on your back. I think he’s learning. He’s doing a good job; he’s staying with us, and I’m riding with him no matter what. Me and him have had long talks. He really cares about the players. We’ve got to do our part to help us get wins and do what’s right for him. At times it gets a little crazy and things go south, but we’ve got to do what’s right for him. We’ve got to play harder for him.”

And so with another must, must, must win game at home Saturday against the seventh place Detroit Pistons continues this unsatisfying Bulls season that often has been likened from afar to a junior high school playground. You know he doesn’t like him! So there! That’s why.

There’s really not much of anything to it, though it can become difficult to discredit a good conspiracy theory. Often the facts may not be as interesting.

Hoiberg didn’t sigh and shake his head before Thursday’s win over the Houston Rockets when questioned again about his supposed feud with Jimmy Butler. Even though it was in Texas and probably allowed, about the only thing Hoiberg wasn’t asked was whether they drew pistols. Though it is coming to High Noon of the Bulls 2015-16 season.

Especially with the Pistons losing to Dallas Friday and now just a game and a half—and one fewer loss—ahead of the Bulls.

“Jimmy and I have a really good relationship right now,” Hoiberg said after calling what became the winning shot for Butler against the Pacers and having him run the offense down the stretch in Houston. “I’ve been communicating a lot with him since he had the injury and came back. I obviously think the world of him for how hard he pushes himself and how much he has improved his game with his work ethic.

“That’s not the reality at all,” Hoiberg countered about the narrative that Butler’s December comments about Hoiberg needing to coach harder created a rift. “Jimmy and I have a very good relationship. I have a lot of trust in Jimmy, putting the ball in his hands late in games to help us finish games. I communicate with Jimmy as much as anyone on this team. I think very highly of him for what he’s done with his game over the course of his career. I’ve always been a fan of his. Yeah, completely false.”

Yeah, but what about what it said on the internet, this era’s schoolyard?

The Bulls aren’t about to escape this contrivance this season given their decline with the team in a contest just to make the playoffs. But was this supposed to be a Bulls team riding Cristiano Felicio, Justin Holiday, Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott and Butler down the stretch to save them as they did Thursday in Houston?

That’s been this season, and who knows facing the Pistons Saturday.

Derrick Rose went for an MRI on his injured elbow Friday. Gibson remained uncertain—he didn’t practice Friday—about playing given he has a rib fracture. Though Gibson said he could play.

Typically. After all, it isn’t a sucking chest wound. Can you play with those?

“I’m gonna try to give it a go,” Gibson said. “I’ll see how it feels. It affects you as far as anything, raising your hands above your head, breathing, sitting down the wrong way. It’s just tough. Guys are playing hard for each other. Everybody’s banged up, nicked up. But we feel we can do some damage in the playoffs. We feel we dropped the ball during the year, but this is the best time of year to come together.

“You have people jumping off the bandwagon left and right,” Gibson understood. “You have people telling you (that) you guys should do this. It’s rough. All we have are the guys in the gym and on the team. We can’t look for anybody else. Nobody else can really save us. Everybody’s coming together and holding the fort down. It’s great to see. Everybody’s cheering one another on.”

But that’s not as good a story.

Though it should be as the Bulls have been getting welcome, albeit surprising, pressure contributions from the most unlikely places. Mirotic has produced back to back big time near 30-point games on the road; Felicio has rallied the team in the fourth quarter in consecutive games; Holiday led the Bulls in fourth quarter scoring in Houston, scoring twice as many points as James Harden.

“I’ve been telling the coaching staff all year that (management) did a good job (finding Felicio),” Gibson said. “Chris and Bobby (Portis) have been working hard and learning. They don’t really say much. Chris is a sleeper. He’s a talented young big man. He’s one of those guys where you just have to leave him out there and he’ll adjust real quickly. I think the sky’s the limit for him.”

He’ll need some of that promise Saturday against Andre Drummond, who has dominated the Bulls this season. The Bulls are 1-2 against Detroit this season with both losses in overtime. The Bulls need to win to gain a chance for the playoff tiebreaker, which then would go to division record.

It’s seven games left. The Bulls are 38-37. They have a chance, but they hardly have everyone. They could go into Saturday’s game missing three of their top six players with Joakim Noah out for the season and Gibson and Rose listed as doubtful to play. Plus, Butler and Gasol are working their way back from knee problems.

“We care about each other,” said Gibson. “Guys have that mindset. After that (team) meeting we’re really playing for each other. We’re not really playing for anyone else but ourselves. We’re trying to overcome. We’re trying to play for Fred; we understand that a lot of stuff is at stake. Guys are stepping up. Guys are doing what they have to do for one another. We’ve still got a couple of games left, but that’s a good sign.”

Pssst, I heard Felicio doesn’t like Mirotic. Didn’t Brazil have some issues with Montenegro? And wasn’t Derrick copying Jimmy’s hairstyle? When he changed that must have been a slap at him, right? You think Pau talks in Spanish to upset Jo, who is French? Hey, who’s Bobby Portis looking at with those eyes!

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