Now this is more like it.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m thrilled that the Bulls have racked up wins against elite teams like the Celtics, Heat, Lakers, Mavericks and Spurs. But there are significant statistical reasons to suspect that blowing out bad teams matters. Of course, this fact was brought up in defense of the Miami Heat, who have been been good at “stomps” (big wins over lousy teams) but bad at “guts” (close wins over good teams).
However, despite what it may feel like, the Heat aren’t the only basketball team on the planet.
That’s why I get concerned about defenseless losses to the Raptors and closer-than-necessary wins against the Bucks. Every game means something. Or maybe I just obsess too much. After all, the 1995-96 Bulls team that won 72 games lost to the Raptors too. Oddly enough, so did the 1996-97 team that won 69 games. I guess Oliver Miller and Popeye Jones just had MJ’s number.
Bad humor aside, it was good to see the Bulls come out and enforce their will over a bad team. Chicago led 50-37 at the half. They pushed the lead to 78-57 after three quarters. The fourth quarter was mostly garbage time.
Brian Scalabrine even logged a minute of playing time. What does that tell you?
As ESPNChicago’s Nick Friedell writes, the Bulls are learning to put away bad teams.
Said Carlos Boozer (12 points, 10 rebounds, +20): “We learned our lesson in Toronto after the break. We had that five day All-Star break and we came back and lost a game at Toronto, a team that, on paper, we should have beat. But we took them lightly and we got kicked in the butt.
“So tonight we came out, I thought we had great intensity from the beginning of the game and we played great defense. I don’t know what they shot from the floor, but I thought we were everywhere tonight. I thought we got our hands on a lot of deflections tonight and did a good job of rebounding. And then on offense, we pushed the ball, made the right plays and I think we learned our lesson from the Toronto game.”
Since Carlos didn’t have a box score in front of him, I’ll supply the numbers. The Wizards shot 35.6 percent from the floor. The Bulls made 9 steals (their season-high is 14) and outrebounded Washington 56-39 and had an Offensive Rebound Percentage of 36.6 (their season average is 28.7 and Minnesota lead the league at 30.9). Furthermore, the Chicago finished with an Offensive Rating of 114.4 points per 100 possessions while holding the Wiz to 83.9 points per 100 possessions.
Said Derrick Rose (21 points, 9 assists, +26): “Thibs came in and talked to us, and was telling us we can’t let down against teams like this, where we’ve got to come out and play aggressive and have an edge. You don’t never want to come into a game like this where you give them confidence.”
It’s worth noting, of course, that this was Joakim Noah’s fourth game back from injury. Jo was fantastic — 19 points on 8-for-10 shooting to go with 11 rebounds — and the Bulls are looking more and more comfortable with him on the floor (which wasn’t the case in the Toronto game). Noah has 52 rebounds (including 24 on the offensive end) over those four and, not coincidentally, the Bulls have won the rebounding battle each time (three times by double digits).
I’d say Noah is back.
Said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: “He’s back, almost to the point he was at before the injury. His activity is off the charts. His defense was terrific, his rebounding is very good. And you can see, he’s starting to get a lot more comfortable offensively as well.”
Added Boozer: “And he is a monster. He’s a monster. The way he’s been playing since he’s been back, he missed two and a half, three months, whatever it was, the way he’s been playing, he’s been a monster. It’s impressive.”
It is. And, now that they are really and truly at full strength for the first time all season, so are the Bulls. They’re currently first in Defensive Efficiency and third (behind the Spurs and Heat) in John Hollinger’s Power Rankings and, at 41-17, they are right there with the Celtics (43-15) and Heat (43-17) in the Eastern Conference standings.
This is getting good.
The starting froncourt of Boozer, Noah and Luol Deng combined for 52 points, 26 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals and a blocked shot.