There will be a familiar voice heard loud and clear Tuesday night at the United Center, booming out instructions and bellowing about calls.
It belongs to Tom Thibodeau, the intensely driven coach who used to coach the Chicago Bulls (13-10) and now calls the shots for the Minnesota Timberwolves (6-18).
Thibodeau, who went 255-139 in five seasons with Chicago, will face his former team for the first time as an NBA coach since the Bulls fired him in May 2015. There are only four Bulls players left who played for Thibodeau in Chicago, but they know exactly what to expect.
Playing against Thibodeau’s teams usually means physical play and intense defense, despite the Timberwolves looking to end a four-game losing streak.
“He used to tell us in the locker room, ‘You got to hate those guys, you got to stick it to them,'” Bulls forward Taj Gibson told the Chicago Tribune. “So, I know he’s going to come in here and have those young guys ready and waiting. It’s kind of a nerve-wracking feeling because you know that guy knows everything about you. He knows all your moves. It’s going to be a good prep.”
Thibodeau’s bark, however, is worse than the Timberwolves’ bite thus far. They’re 12 games below the .500 mark, are 2-8 in their past 10 games and have struggled converting fourth-quarter leads into wins.
Such was the case Sunday in a 116-108 loss to the Golden State Warriors at Target Center. The Warriors trailed by 10 points heading into the fourth, but outscored Minnesota 38-20 in the quarter for the win.
It can’t be good for Thibodeau’s blood pressure, but he claims that’s not the case. He was asked recently how he is handling all the losses, and he didn’t hesitate to answer.
“Great,” Thibodeau told the Minneapolis Star-Triibune. “You have to be consistent. Sometimes things go your way, sometimes they don’t. But every day, put everything you have into it and that’s all you can do. I’m good. I’ve got a great group of guys. As long as they’re working hard, playing for each other, putting everything they have into each and every day, I’m fine.”
He preached those same lessons to the Bulls for five seasons. Many of them stuck and remain with his former players. Jimmy Butler, Chicago’s leading scorer, is one of them.
Butler said Thibodeau’s insistence on working hard at both ends of the floor was vital to his rise from being a late first-round pick to one of the NBA’s best all-around players. Thibodeau was hard on guys like Gibson and Butler, but they’re both now major components in Chicago’s lineup.
“I got better from it,” Butler told CSN Chicago. “The numbers speak for themselves. I’m very grateful he coached me for my first four years and the relationship we still have that we built upon over the (past) summer (with USA Basketball), that will forever be my guy. We went through the trenches together, along with my former teammates. I got love and respect for everybody.”
The Bulls recalled guard R.J. Hunter from the Windy City Bulls of the D-League on Monday. Minnesota reserve forward Nemanja Bjelica has missed the past two games with a sore ankle.
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