Boozer, Watson step up as Bulls cruise sans Rose

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Boozer, Watson step up as Bulls cruise sans Rose

Updated: Tuesday, Jan. 17 at 10:58 p.m.

No Derrick Rose? No problem.

At least that was the case Tuesday night, as the Bulls (13-3) placed all five starters in double figures scoring and cruised to an easy 118-97 rout over the Suns (4-9) at the United Center.

For the second consecutive game, Carlos Boozer (31 points, six rebounds) came out of the gate as an assertive scorer, perhaps knowing his responsibilities were greater with the absence of Rose.

He had help, however, as C.J. Watson (23 points, five assists) filled in capably for the Bulls sidelined superstar and Joakim Noah (13 points, 12 rebounds) appeared to be breaking out of his funk, knocking down a pair of his patented Tornado jumpers.

I thought we had a lot of guys play well. I thought Joakim was great to start the game, very active, going after every ball, hustling, knocked down a couple shots. Of course, Carlos was on fire to start and to C.J.s credit, how hard he worked coming back, particularly on his conditioning, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. I loved the way the ball hopped. The ball was not sticking anywhere. Once we got into a rhythm, we were able to knock some shots down.

Phoenixs fast pace, propelled by former two-time MVP Steve Nash (25 points, nine assists) the last point guard to win the leagues MVP award before Rose, Nashs elite scoring and playmaking were on full display early on actually benefited the Bulls, who wanted to get back to running in transition after playing at a slower tempo as of late.

Phoenix plays with a pace, so the game is going to be faster. I thought Nash put incredible pressure on us early in the game. Its amazing what hes doing at his age, said Thibodeau. Our defense obviously, we need work. I loved our offense. I thought the pace was great.

Rip Hamilton (11 points, six assists), back in the lineup after missing eight consecutive games, was an important factor in the Bulls building a comfortable cushion the veteran shooting guard was a scoring presence and also a playmaker, something needed without Rose available and the Bulls held a 39-31 advantage after a high-scoring opening period.

Rip really was terrific, not so much with his shooting, as much as his playmaking, said Thibodeau. Just having Rip, it gives you another primary option.

Added Noah: Rip is huge because hes a great passer very underrated part of his game and he really demands a lot of attention offensively, just with his ability to shoot the ball, so I think the more we play together, the better well be and its good to have him out there.

Chicagos offense was clicking on all cylinders Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau could take pride in his teams protection of the basketball, if not how many points it allowed as the home teams gaudy field-goal percentage reflected its efficiency.

Beyond the aggressive Watson, who was a perfect 5-for-5 from the floor in the first quarter, the Bulls got a significant contribution from Boozer, who knocked down mid-range jumper after mid-range jumper against the porous Suns defense.

I thought we really made plays for each other. I thought we made the easy play, said Hamilton. We didnt really take any difficult shots and when youre doing that, everybody out there is having fun.

More significantly, the heavily-scrutinized post tandem of Noah and Boozer appeared to be extremely cohesive, as the charismatic centers high activity level meshed beautifully with the power forwards deft outside touch. Thibodeau was so confident in his squads first-half performance that in the waning moments of the second period, after the lead had ballooned to a 20-point gap it was 67-47 in the Bulls favor, at the break rookie swingman Jimmy Butler saw some rare early action.

We knew we had to compete better than we did against Memphis. It was an embarrassing loss. Just the way we played, it wasnt right, said Noah. Just taking my shots when they were there and Rip opens up the floor a lot, as well.

Chimed in Thibodeau, weary of questions about the big-man duo: I think they do fine. I think the record speaks for itself.

I think that they played well. I think they were high energy, the ball moved freely, they were playmaking. Jo made a lot of good plays with the ball. Theyre fine, he continued. Jos timing is coming around. Hes a lot more active.

Noahs strong play persisted after the intermission a steal and coast-to-coast push for a layup opened third-quarter scoring as his energy, relentless rebounding and unique ball skills had a major impact on the contest. A 7-0 run to start the period set the tone in the lopsided affair, as the defense-less Suns could do nothing to slow the Bulls offensive rhythm, as wings Hamilton and Luol Deng (15 points, six rebounds) also got things going for the hosts.

Crisp ball movement, which often led to wide-open jumpers while Watson played point guard and facilitated at times and Deng exhibited his typical unselfishness, Hamiltons playmaking was subtly a key to the offensive flow was a marker of Chicagos success, as the high assist totals reflected. Despite Nashs continued brilliance, the Bulls took a 96-68 lead into the games final frame.

Hamilton gave credit to his backcourt partner, Watson, saying, He was awesome, he was great. C.J. did a great job. He got guys in the spots where they needed to be, he ran the offense and when he was open, he took the shot.

Concurred Noah: C.J.s a great point guard and sometimes, its hard when you play behind the MVP, but every time he gets big minutes, he steps up and hes been huge for us. Coming back from an injury like that and being able to play at a high level, its been very impressive.

With the game no longer in doubt, Suns head coach Alvin Gentry rested Nash and his other regulars, filtering in his reserves, and Thibodeau followed suit, giving Bulls reserves like backup center Omer Asik (11 points) an opportunity to get some work, since they hadnt been needed to provide additional firepower earlier in the evening.

With two days off before for their next contest, a rarity in the condensed schedule, a much-needed period of rest and the potential of Roses return loom before Friday, when the Bulls play the Cavaliers in Cleveland.

I thought we had some spurts when we played good defense and especially too, when youre going on the road, youve got to be air-tight with your defense, so thats something that we have to clean up, said Thibodeau. Fortunately for us, we have a day of practice coming.

Fred Hoiberg, Jimmy Butler rave about Rajon Rondo's voice, basketball IQ

Fred Hoiberg, Jimmy Butler rave about Rajon Rondo's voice, basketball IQ

With one Bulls practice in the books and one more to go in the night session, it was evident from the primary parties that Rajon Rondo has earned instant trust and credibility with his play.

Or more pointedly, his brain and his mouth.

“He’s got the best voice on the team,” head coach Fred Hoiberg said. “When you have point guard out there who can get you into something and talk the way he does, that sets the tone for everybody.”

Apparently the ultra-intelligent point guard has been a galvanizing force since the team starting convening last month for informal workouts, as Hoiberg believes Rondo has grasped his system instantly and brought some of the younger teammates along.

“The biggest thing that I’ve been most impressed with with Rajon is the minute he stepped on this floor when he got back here in August is he pulled everybody together,” Hoiberg said. “If you have a guy not only offensively getting you into something but defensively making sure guys are pointing and talking and making sure guys are pointing and talking and getting back and matched up in transition, that’s where it starts. He’s been here. He’s been great. He’s a guy who you can watch film with in September before we got rolling here in camp. He got us off to a great start.”

Needing Rondo to be vocal will be a plus for Hoiberg considering the coach’s soft-spoken approach, and those two being on one accord will be a key considering Rondo’s history with coaches over time.

Rondo’s intelligence, which most consider to be genius-like, has already come in handy and will help with the perimeter adjustment of fitting himself, Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade together.

“Like I always say, when you put good basketball players out there on the floor you just go,” Butler said. “Everything just falls into place, falls into line. You don’t have to worry about too much of anything. And with him he’s an incredible leader. He just wants everybody to be successful. He’s going to put you in position to be just that.”

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Rondo has led the league in assists three times and his career 8.7 assists-per-game average is third among active players behind Chris Paul (L.A. Clippers) and John Wall (Washington Wizards).

“He has been around the league a long time,” Hoiberg said. “He studies the league. If he sees a small guy guarding Jimmy, he’s going to find a way to get him the ball on the block. The more you can have those guys recognizing things on the floor---if Robin Lopez is coming down and I have to yell, ‘Get the ball to Robin’ then we have issues -- and Rondo obviously will be a big help with that.”

So yeah, he’ll have the ball in his hands plenty.

“He’s super-smart. He really sees things before they even develop out there on the basketball floor, so it makes everybody’s job a lot easier," Butler said. "And not only is he leading the team on offense, but he’s constantly talking on defense, so he’s letting everybody know where they have to be. Wade’s the same way, so he makes everybody’s job easier as well, and you learn from that, so you just follow suit for the most part.’’

Butler joked that there will often be times where a Rondo pass zigs while he’ll be zagging early in camp while chemistry is developing, saying “I’m sorry, Rajon, because you’re going to definitely get a turnover from me one game,” and that he won’t be opposed to Rondo getting on him or anybody else in the meantime.

“I’m good with that,” Butler said. “I’ll challenge him right back if I see something that he’s not doing correctly. I want him to hold me accountable, me hold him accountable, everybody holding everybody accountable, because then everybody is going to learn from their mistakes and not to it again.”

Stan Bowman mum on Artemi Panarin contract talks

Stan Bowman mum on Artemi Panarin contract talks

In July, when asked how contract talks were going with star forward Artemi Panarin, general manager Stan Bowman said he wouldn’t negotiate through the media.

He reiterated that on Tuesday.

“Obviously Artemi's a big part of our team. We're excited for the season he had. We're looking forward to him building on that as well. Then the negotiations will be what they are between his agent and myself,” I respect Tom [Lynn, Panarin’s agent]. He's a very knowledgeable guy, and Artemi put a lot of faith in him. And Tom and I will work to get something done.”

Panarin is entering the final year of his current contract and is coming off a monster rookie season in which he recorded 77 points and took home the Calder Trophy. Panarin took home plenty of bonus money thanks to that season, too.

The 24-year-old could certainly command a hefty price, which would once again be a major concern to the cash-strapped Blackhawks. The salary cap is at $73 million for this season, a small increase from 2015-16 ($71.4 million). Factor in another likely small increase next season and the large contracts the Blackhawks are already doling out – Brent Seabrook’s eight-year deal with a cap hit of $6.875 kicks in this season – and could Panarin be another one that gets away?

But Bowman remains optimistic.

“We're always confident,” he said. “You go into a negotiation expecting to get a deal done. That's the way I've been in the past and that's the way I am now.”