Bulls know they're in for a challenge vs. the Celtics

CHICAGO — Dwyane Wade is proud of the Chicago Bulls for qualifying for the postseason after such an up-and-down season. The future Hall of Famer seemed happy about the chance to perform on the postseason stage yet again as he spoke in front of his locker after Wednesday’s 112-73 destruction of the Brooklyn Nets. But as Wade discussed the Bulls’ upcoming series against the Boston Celtics, he knows his group is in for a major challenge.

“It says 1 [vs.] 8,” Wade said of the seedings of each team. “But I think it’s going to be a little tougher than that.”

After 14 seasons in the league, Wade has seen enough basketball to know that it’s going to be difficult for the Bulls to pull off a first-round upset — but not impossible. The Bulls were by no means confident that they would shock the Celtics in the first round, but they understand that they have a chance to knock off the top seed in the conference if they get huge contributions from Jimmy Butler, Rajon Rondo and Wade.

“I just told the guys how proud I am of them,” Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg said of the message he gave his team after the game. “Our backs were against the wall. We had that four-game [winning] streak against four really good teams that really got us back in the playoff picture. … It’s just a great job of being resilient by our players of hanging in there and sticking in there. Finding a way to battle all the way to the last day … and getting ourselves into the postseason. Now the fun begins.”

Aside from the usual energy in a postgame series, what will be a lot of fun to watch will be how Rondo handles his return to the Boston. The former Celtic isn’t worried about facing his old team, but he does appreciate how loud it will likely be at TD Garden during Game 1 on Sunday night.

“I’m with the Bulls now,” Rondo said. “I just want to go out there and win. My only focus is to get the win.”

“It’s going to be crazy. Their fans are one of the best I’ve ever seen, especially at this time of the year. So I’m looking forward to going there and playing.”

While the Bulls will have to rely on Butler, Wade and Rondo to carry the majority of the weight for this series, Wade knows the playoff pressure will be good for the younger players on the Bulls’ roster.

“Once these guys play their first game, play the first couple minutes, it ain’t getting no harder than that,” Wade said. “So you want them guys to get out there and get that experience of that first game. We’re not putting too much pressure on them. We’ve got guys, leaders with Jimmy and Rondo, myself, other guys, Niko [Mirotic], Robin [Lopez]. Guys who are going to help this team along the way and we’re not going to put too much pressure on the young guys.”

In order for the Bulls to win the series, one of the single biggest keys will be slowing down Celtics All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas. Rondo had high praise for the young guard as he discussed the series.

“He’s probably playing the best out of any point guard,” Rondo said. “As far as scoring the ball. And his team is winning so [either] him or Kyrie [Irving], take your pick.”

As pleased as the Bulls were with the fact they made the playoffs, Wade delivered another dose of reality when asked if he thought the Bulls had had a successful season now that they qualified for the NBA’s big dance.

“I’m not going to use that word,” Wade said. “I’m just going to say I’m proud of these guys through everything. Wins, losses, injuries, trades, all the things that we went through as a team, to continue to stick together and find a way. That’s what it’s about. It’s about finding a way. And we were able to accomplish that in our first year together. That’s all we’re focusing on and that’s all we should be focusing on.”

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