As much as Wizards coach Randy Wittman gets scrutiny for relying too heavily on starters for minutes, that's exactly what Tom Thibodeau has done with the Chicago Bulls going into Game 1 of their series that tips Sunday (CSN, 7 p.m. ET).
The Wizards had enough blowout victories -- and quality play from the bench -- to end the season which allowed Wittman to cut the minutes of some of his starters. John Wall, who is the only one on the roster to start every game, averaged just 28 minutes in his last three games. Trevor Ariza, their best one-on-one defender, averaged less than 30 in the last four.
Jimmy Butler, the Bulls' best perimeter defender, averaged 43 minutes in the last 16 games, including 48 in the season finale at the Charlotte Bobcats. Only twice in that stretch he has played less than 41. In a 96-78 blowout of the Wizards on April 5, Butler was on the court 42 minutes. Joakim Noah, their best post defender, ended the season averaging 40 minutes per game in the last five.
“We fought hard. There’s absolutely no regrets in this season. I feel like we competed every night and gave it everything we had," Noah told CSN Chicago's Aggrey Sam. "I’m not going to lie, this is the hardest season I think I’ve ever been a part of, physically and mentally. But I feel like overall, just really proud of everybody. Just 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. Now the playoffs is the icing on the cake. As competitors, that’s what you want. You want to play in the playoffs, so I think we put ourselves in a pretty good position and you know what? I’m really proud just to be part of this team, seriously. Because I’ve never been around a group of guys who work so hard.”
But could it be too hard? If the Bulls have any issues with fatigue and it becomes a factor in this best-of-seven series, Thibodeau likely won't be second-guessed the way Wittman, who is the postseason for the first time in his eight-year coaching career, would be. He's the 2010-11 NBA coach of the year has earned at least that much respect, but it also points to Chicago's glaring weakness -- lack of bench depth.