Two more wins.
A 22-10 record. Third-best in the East.
They weren’t pretty wins. Despite playing at home, the Bulls shot only 39 percent against New Jersey and just 43 percent versus Cleveland. And you could easily (and rightly) argue that both contests were a little too close considering the Nets and Cavaliers have a combined record of 17-50. What’s more, the Cavs were without Anderson Varejao (broken cheekbone), Mo Williams (left hip flexor strain) and Daniel Gibson (left thigh contusion).
But wins are wins. And every win the Bulls notch without Joakim Noah is a bonus. In that regard, the schedule is actually working in the team’s favor.
Anyway, Derrick Rose said he wants to be MVP. Well, he’s backing his words up and then some. Against the Nets, Rose had an off shooting night (5-for-16) but went 7-for-7 at the free throw line and finished with 19 points and co-game-high 9 assists. Then, against the Cavs, Derrick had game-highs in points (28) and assists (11). In the decisive third quarter — during which Chicago outscored Cleveland 32-9 — Rose banged home a couple three-pointers and scored 12 points.
The kid is big time. Absolutely big time.
Carlos Boozer isn’t bad, either. He had double-doubles against both the Nets (20 points and 15 rebounds) and Cavaliers (20 points and 11 boards). Meanwhile, Luol Deng continued producing as the “third guy” on offense, contributing 19 points (with 8 rebounds) versus New Jersey and 23 points against Cleveland.
The Bulls have now won 12 of their last 14 games. You won’t see many of those wins — especially recently — on ESPN Classic, but it sure beats the alternative. After 32 games last season, the Bulls were 14-18.
Said Boozer: ”I don’t care who you are, it’s hard to win in the NBA. We’re proud of ourselves for winning, but we also do want to play much better. We take it for what it is. We want to play a lot better moving forward, but we are winning. We know that for us to continue to win, we have to get better.”
I need to point out again the the Bulls are missing Noah. They aren’t rebounding as well and they aren’t scoring as many points in transition. Which, as I said, makes all these Noah-less wins a bonus.
Here’s the good news: Chicago’s next five games are versus the Raptors (11-21), at New Jersey (9-25), at Philadelphia (13-20), versus the Celtics (24-7) and versus the Pistons (11-22). And Boston is without Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett. This soft stretch of schedule could not have come at a better time.
As an aside, the defense continues to provide the foundation for grinding out victories. The Bulls’ first half defense wasn’t great against the Cavs — Cleveland had 61 points at halftime — but Chicago limited the Cavaliers to 30 points in the second half and only 91 for the game.
The Bulls have now held 11 of their last 13 opponents below 100 points and rank second in Defensive Rating behind coach Thibodeau’s old team the Celtics. Chicago’s D-Rating of 99.9 is barely behind Boston’s 99.3.
“We’re going to get whupped. There’s no way [we can play like this]. We can’t come out like that. We just got to hurry up and play our way and continue to play that way.”