The Bulls were back in action Friday night against the slumping Denver Nuggets and continued their recent run of improved performance, sprinting out to a big lead they would never relinquish en route to a 117-89 win.
The Bulls jumped ahead 32-12 midway through the first period and extended the lead to 23 by halftime.
Chicago ended the game with seven players scoring in double digits, led by D.J. Augustin’s 22 points on 50 percent shooting, including a scorching 5-7 from behind the arc.
The only blot on an otherwise perfect night was the injury suffered to Jimmy Butler early in the first half.
On a drive to the hoop, Butler converted on an acrobatic layup only to take a knee to the ribs as he landed on the floor. He stayed down before staying in the game to hit his next shot – a three – before being unable to continue.
Team doctors diagnosed him with a rib contusion – in essence a broken rib – and he would not return.
On another night this would have been enough to upset the Bulls and potentially cause them to get dragged down, but rookie Tony Snell embodied the Next Man Up principle, exploding off the bench with a career-high 20 points.
Snell proved himself yet another strong late-round draft choice, hitting seven of his 14 shots including 3-4 from behind the three-point line.
Denver, on the other hand, was never truly competitive in this came. Brian Shaw’s team have had a disappointing season filled with injuries of their own while others are simply not as good as the team needs.
Aaron Brooks made his debut after arriving from Houston in a deadline day trade, providing some much-needed minutes at point guard from the bench. His freshness to the team was evident though as he was essentially reduced to playing isolation sets and unable to run the offense.
The Bulls set a new season-high for points in a half with 69 at halftime and had hit the 100 point mark just a few minutes into the fourth quarter.
Joakim Noah turned in another impressive night – 14 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists – while Taj Gibson pulled down 10 rebounds to go with his 15 points as he continued to show off a hugely improved offensive repertoire.
The win allowed the Bulls to keep pace with the Toronto Raptors, currently a half-game ahead in the race for the Eastern Conference’s third seed. Toronto won at home against Cleveland Friday night. The Bulls will go for a season-high sixth consecutive win against Miami on South Beach in Sunday’s matinee match-up.