Most people who follow the Bulls are familiar with their annual circus road trip from hell, which happens in mid to late-November when the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus moves into the United Center for two weeks. Less well-known is the “other road trip” that occurs each season in late-January to early-February, shortly before the All-Star break.
Historically speaking, the Bulls haven’t fared too well on the “other road trip.” Heading into this season, Chicago’s post-Jordan record on this annual journey was 18-42. And, believe it or not, the only winning record the Bulls had on this trip (before this season) was last season’s 4-3 mark.
As for five wins in a row, you’d have to go back to the 1996-97 campaign, when the Bulls went 69-13. Of course, that five-game streak included victories over sadsack teams like the Vancouver Grizzlies (who finished 14-68), Sacramento Kings (34-48) and Golden State Warriors (30-52). In all honesty, this five-gamer was more impressive since it included wins over five plus-.500 teams. But I’ll go one further: No team other than your 2009-10 Chicago Bulls has defeated five straight teams with winning records on the same trip since the NBA began in 1946. No, not even the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls team that won a league record 72 games…and had the G.O.A.T on the roster.
The Bulls no longer have the G.O.A.T., but they do have an All-Star, and he played pretty well. Derrick Rose finished with 18 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. His shooting was a little off (7-for-19), but he made two huge plays in overtime. The first was drawing a foul on David West and knocking down both freebies to put the Bulls up 106-104 with 2:13 left. The second was when he drove baseline, pulled in the entire Hornets team and then kicked the ball out to Brad Miller for a jumper that put the Bulls up 108-104. Of course, Rose lost the ball (which was stolen by Peja Stojakovic) with eight seconds left, which gave New Orleans a chance to tie or win the game before the buzzer…but, fortunately, that didn’t happen.
And as you can see from the play-by-play, the game ended with a steal by Rose.
With all due respect to Chicago’s newest All-Star, nobody on the Bulls played bigger than Luol Deng last night. Deng scored a team-high 26 points (10-for-21) to go along with 7 boards. His biggest two points, and his biggest rebound, came at the end of regulation. With Chicago down 102-100, Rose drove to the cup and got his shot swatted by West. Fortunately, Deng was there for the offensive board and putback with 0.2 seconds left to force the OT.
The right place at the right time. On the road.
Said Deng: “When you’re winning, everything is positive. We’re going into games expecting to win. A game like that, if we had lost four in a row, we might have lost it. But the mentality right now is we can win every game.”
Is this the same team that fell to 10-17 after losing to the Knicks back on December 22?
Nope. Not even close. And now the Bulls are above .500 (23-22) for the first time since they were 6-5 way back in November.
Mind you, it wasn’t all violins and roses. The Bulls went up 88-73 on two free throws by Deng with two minutes left in the third quarter and then…nearly collapsed. Chicago scored only four points over the next 11-plus minutes and the Hornets came all the way back to take a 97-92 lead after a three-point play by West. But the Bulls scrapped, thanks to some key plays by Rose (two free throws), Joakim Noah (an offensive rebound and putback), Miller (a nine-footer and two foul shots), and, of course, Deng’s game-saving putback.
And sure, it helped that Chris Paul injured his left leg near the end of regulation, which seriously hurt the Hornets in overtime. I mean, do you really think Darren Collison would end up with the ball in his hands at the end of a tight game under normal circumstances? Of course not. But that still doesn’t take away from Chicago’s gutsy performance at the end of a long Western Conference road swing.
Said coach Vinny Del Negro: “We showed some toughness and just found a way to get us to overtime. We weren’t as sharp tonight as we have been, but at the end we attacked.”
They sure did.
Noah racked up another impressive double-double with 13 points and a game-high 18 rebounds. … Chicago’s defense held New Orleans to 39 percent shooting (39-99), but the Hornets almost made up for it by going 12-for-22 from downtown. … The Bulls outscored the Hornets 60-32 in the paint. … Chicago went 20-for-35 at the rim (57 percent) but only 5-for-20 from 16-23 feet (25 percent). … Tyrus Thomas had 11 points and 4 rebounds in 20 minutes. … As Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald pointed out: “Center Brad Miller averaged 13.4 points during the five-game win streak and hit 7 of 15 shots from 3-point range. Remember in December when Miller scored 4 points total in a five-game stretch?”
Former Bull factor:
Aaron Gray doesn’t think the Bulls gave him a chance. Said Gray: “Over there [with the Bulls], there was just no opportunity no matter what. They showed me that in the Houston game.” Gray said he’s optimistic about his chances with the Hornets, but he earned a DNP-CD last night.
Ryan Schwan of Hornets247: “That last play of regulation was crushing. The Hornets have run that play a dozen times, but tonight three things went wrong. First, West overthrew Paul by too much, forcing him to sprint into the crowd to catch it, Marcus Thornton went towards the basket behind the guy covering him rather than giving Paul a place to throw it to, and then there was the cameraman. Frigging Cameraman. Paul goes down, his knee hurt, and he was unable to do anything in overtime, despite gamely hobbling around at the end. Now he’s questionable for tomorrow night in Memphis. Horrible ending.”