Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah were back in, Luol Deng (wrist) and Taj Gibson (ankle) were out, and the Bulls continued their streak of chewing up and spitting out inferior opponents.
The Nets are bad (5-13) and were playing their third game in a row on the road against the league’s best team (in terms of wins and losses). The outcome of this one was practically preordained.
The Bulls were going to win this one unless the earth opened up and swallowed the United Center.
So the drama of the game was less about the Nets and more about story lines.
Such as Chicago’s continuing exellence despite injuries to key players. And make no mistake: Deng and Gibson are crucial to the Bulls’ long-term success. But this team has the coaching and depth necessary to weather the storm of injuries and scheduling. It has so far anyway. I’ll be interested to see how the Bulls fair against the Pacers on Wednesday and the Heat on Sunday.
The Bulls continue to share the ball at a phenomenal rate. Last night, they dished out a season-best 33 assists on 43 made field goals, which is a major reason why they shot 57.3 percent as a team. Chicago currently ranks third (behind Denver and San Antonio) in assists per game (23.1) and fourth (behind Philadelphia, San Antonio and Atlanta) in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.65). Most importantly, they are tied for first (with Denver and San Antonio) in Assist Ratio (16.3), which measures the percentage of a team’s possessions that ends in an assist.
This has done wonders for the offense. Last season, the Bulls couldn’t quite crack the top 10 in Ofensive Efficiency. They currently rank second at 105.7 points per 100 possessions, just behind Miami’s 106.0 points per 100 possessions. Toss in the fact that they also rank second (behind Philly) in Defensive Efficiency (93.5) and first overall in both Offensive Rebounding Rate (75.0) and Rebounding Rate (53.9), and you have one pretty complete team.
The one mitigating factor: Chicago ranks 28th in Strength of Schedule (-2.41). Only the Magic (-2.83) and Pacers (-2.86) have had an easier go of it so far this season. So we’ll see what kind of team the Bulls can truly be when they start facing a little stiffer competition.
Nitpicking aside, it was good to see D-Rose back in action, even if he wasn’t running at full speed. He checked Deron Williams while going off for 22 points (9-for-16), 5 rebounds and 8 assists. I’ll admit I’m still worried about his lingering toe injury. But it is what it is.
Rip Hamilton is coming along. He had his second straight 20-point game (22 on 10-for-16 shooting) and added a team-high 10 assists. Rip has found his shooting touch and consistently makes smart plays. And I love his movement without the ball. That’s a key attribute, especially paired with a scoring point guard like Derrick Rose. Very few scoring guards can score 20 without a lot of ball handling and isolation plays. Hamilton can drop 20 and barely touch the rock. In related news, Rip scored his 15,000th career point last night.
Carlos Boozer continued his recent strong play, contributing 16 points (6-for-9), 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocked shots in 33 minutes. There’s not much to complain about regarding Booz right now.
Dear Joakim Noah (16 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists): Welcome back!
The Bench Mob pitched in with 25 points (9-for-16), 10 rebounds and 8 assists. Coach Tom Thibodeau even squeezed 23 minutes out of Brian Scalabrine and the Bulls still won in a blowout.
In summary, the good times continue for the Bulls. The only dark clouds are the question of how the team will respond to games against better opponents, Rose’s sprained toe, and especially the status of Deng. I’ve read the word “surgery” used as a possibility for his injured wrist. Several times. That would be bad. As usual, we’ll just have to wait and see.