I’m not sure I would have expected a win against the Nuggets even if Brad Miller and John Salmons had been able to play. (The Kings hadn’t finalized their physicals for Andres Nocioni, Drew Gooden, Cedric Simmons and Michael Ruffin, so Miller and Salmons were ineligible for game action.) As it was, the Bulls dressed only eight players — or, according to Lindsey “The Mummy” Hunter, seven-and-a-half — against a team that began their day with the second-best record in the Western Conference.
No problem. Chicago’s 116-99 victory was the Wounded Tiger Theory in action. Or as Ben Gordon put it: “The NBA is like that. Usually the teams that have their backs against the wall tend to play a little better, play more passionate. That’s how we’ve been playing the last couple games.”
No kidding. And in case you’re keeping track at home: The Bulls have now won seven of their last 10 games and have fought to within a half a game of the Milwaukee Bucks for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. And help — in the form of Miller, Salmons and maybe even Tim Thomas — is on the way.
Not that I want to get too far ahead of myself. I’d rather enjoy last night’s win for a little while longer. The highlights included: Ben Gordon’s season-high 37 points (13-for-23, 4-for-7 from distance); double-doubles from Luol Deng (22 points, 12 rebounds) and Tyrus Thomas (21 points, 12 boards); 50+ percent shooting as a team (40-for-79); near-perfect accuracy from the line (31-for-34); a 22-4 edge in fast break points; and a 45-36 rebounding advantage.
Kirk Hinrich (9 points, 3-for-7) had cooled off from his 31-point performance against the Bucks, but he did have a game-high 8 assists and played some wicked-awesome second-half D on Chauncey Billups. Mr. Big Shot scored 16 points on 7-for-7 shooting in the first half, but he was only 2-for-9 in the final 24 minutes, thanks primarily to Captain Kirk’s persistent and annoying defense. It’s like I said right before the trade deadline: Kirk makes this team better. He can score, make plays and defend…just a great backup for Derrick Rose.
Speaking of Derrick, he got benched for the final 9:26. As Vinny Del Negro explained: “I liked Kirk [Hinrich’s] demeanor out there. He guarded Chauncey [Billups] well and stabilized us, got us in our sets a little better.” And while all that’s totally true, and it’s hard to argue with the results — Chicago outscored Denver 33-16 with Rose riding the pine — seeing Derrick left out of clutch situations, as he was against the Heat, makes me edgy.
Speaking of things that make me nervous, let’s run this postgame quote from Ben Gordon through the Bat Computer. Regarding the team’s shortened rotation: “It’s fun. I think guys play more relaxed. We’re not coming out of the game or whatever. That’s been working for us the last few games.” That doesn’t exactly sound like an open-armed welcome to the new guys, particularly Salmons, who will probably end up stealing some of Ben’s minutes. And vice versa. I really hope that’s not going to be a problem, because Gordon and Salmons both like their PT, not to mention their shots.
But I’m just picking nits and borrowing trouble here. I’d rather bask in the afterglow of last night’s victory for another 24 hours or so, at least until the Bulls play the Pacers in Indy tomorrow. So I won’t obsess over how Kenyon Martin didn’t play in the second half due to back spasms, or how Carmelo Anthony — who needed 18 shots to score 12 points — was hobbled by a bruised left knee he suffered a couple days ago in Philadelphia. Like Gordon said, that’s the NBA. You have to play the games, regardless of the strength (or health) or your opponent. And that’s what the Bulls did.
Bonus stat: Lindsey Hunter had a one trillion last night.
Postgame comments: Courtesy of MouthpieceSports.com: