Updated: Monday, Jan. 23 at 11:43 p.m.
Maybe Tom Thibodeaus frequently-repeated mantras about the Bulls depth should be taken more seriously.
Six Bulls (16-3) scored in double figures Monday evening, as the Nets (5-13) became the latest team to be thrashed at the United Center running the Bulls home mark to 8-0 on the season 110-95, earning the home team its fourth straight win.
We have confidence in one another and were not letting any of the attention or any of the critics get to us. Were just doing our thing. Were our biggest critics at the end of the day. Were happy with the record, but were not satisfied. Were just going to keep fighting and keep getting better, said Joakim Noah. I think we could have played better defensively tonight. I think we started off in the first quarter playing solid defense, but I think we let them score too many points at the end, but I guess its good to win by 20 and be critical. I think if you have that mentality, I think were good.
Still short-handed, but with an influx of walking wounded back in the lineup Derrick Rose (22 points, eight assists, five rebounds) and Noah (16 points, 10 rebounds, four assists) returned to action after missing four games and a single contest, respectively. The Bulls looked more energized than their weary opponent, playing their third game in three consecutive nights.
But it was fill-in starter (for the injured Luol Deng, who suffered a wrist injury in Saturdays home win over Charlotte) Ronnie Brewer (11 points, five rebounds) who had the hot hand early against a New Jersey lineup that featured four fellow ex-Jazz players (Deron Williams, Mehmet Okur, DeShawn Stevenson and Kris Humphries, who was booed by United Center fans apparently familiar with his brief marriage to reality-show star Kim Kardashian) as starters.
Rose, who knocked down a pair of first-quarter triples, and Noah looked no worse for the wear, particularly the latter, who was active, aggressive and showcased an adept scoring touch at the games outset.
Chicagos depth was tested almost immediately, however, as Carlos Boozer (14 points, nine rebounds, two steals, two blocked shots) picked up his second foul and with Taj Gibson inactive (and Deng, who can slide over to power forward, also out), veteran forward Brian Scalabrine, usually a deep reserve, saw extensive minutes.
In addition to balanced and efficient offense, the Bulls also displayed their trademark stifling defense, limiting the visitors to a mostly poor quality of shot selection. As the opening period went on, however, the Nets, propelled by the playmaking of All-Star point guard Williams (16 points, 10 assists), started to find a rhythm, although after a largely positive quarter of play, the Bulls lead stood at 28-18.
Rip Hamilton (22 points, 10 assists), whose passing was actually his strong point in the games initial stanza, went over the 15,000-point mark for his career, becoming the 120th NBA player ever and 20th active player to do so.
Its a great feeling. I didnt know it until they said it today. I think I owe it to all my great teammates I played with my whole career, said Hamilton of the achievement. All the bigs setting screens and things like that. I think I need to take them all out to eat. But its a great accomplishment.
Bulls fans had a reason to cheer for Scalabrine for more than a token late-game blowout appearance, as the self-described White Mamba scored on an acrobatic reverse layup that brought the crowd to its feet in the second quarter, followed by a pair of nice assists to backup center Omer Asik. A modified second-unit rotation, featuring Hamilton in Dengs role as an all-purpose wing scorer and distributor, helped the home team create more separation and develop a comfortable cushion.
Explained Thibodeau: I wanted to keep a starter out there. Rip is feeling better and better, so we extended his minutes a little bit.
Even after the rest of the Bulls starters were reinserted into the contest, Hamiltons strong play persisted and he was joined by his backcourt partner, Rose, who thrilled the partisan audience with consecutive steals and breakaway finishes, though he didnt utilize any high-wire theatrics, in a nod to concern for his injured toe.
I kind of knew that I was going to play this game, but I had to take my time. I had a lot of days off, so those days will help me with my recovery, said Rose. All the games that I missed, I wanted to play, knowing that this year has been great with winning I cant complain about anything but I hate to sit out, I hate being injured, just missing action, playing against great people, playing against great guards.
It didnt hurt during the game, he continued, though he acknowledged that he was kind of scared on the fast break to really dunk the ball.
After first allowing their guests to cut the deficit to single digits, the Bulls, led by Hamiltons all-around efforts and Rose, who finally showcased his explosion on a powerful drive and finish toward the end of the half, found a comfort zone and at the intermission, held a 59-43 advantage.
To miss as much time as he did and come out and play like he did says a lot about him. His timing obviously wasnt there, but hell get up to speed very quickly and I thought he played very hard, said Thibodeau. He had a lot of explosive plays and I also think when you miss that amount of time, your conditioning goes. Hell get that back quickly.
Noah was a force immediately after the break, finishing at the rim, being a factor on both ends of the glass, putting solid post moves to use and generally displaying the scoring touch he showed off at the beginning of last season, but has been inconsistent since then. The charismatic center was only one aspect of the Bulls efficient offense, which led to gaudy team shooting numbers against their smallish opponents suspect defense.
I feel pretty good. I feel Ive just got to keep working, get back to 100 percent, get my ankle right, said Noah, who described his injured left ankle as feeling pretty good afterwards. Everybodys really focused on recovery more than past years Ive been here. Guys are working really, really hard and we understand whats at stake, and just enjoying it, enjoying playing basketball with a great group of guys.
Added Thibodeau: Hes been playing at a really high level and with him missing last game, I was a little concerned about his timing in this game and he missed a couple bunnies early, but he was extremely active and he got more comfortable as the game went along.
Williams attempted to take advantage of his hobbled counterpart and was somewhat effective in doing so, but he had little help other than sharpshooter Anthony Morrow (15 points) and backup point guard Jordan Farmars (21 points) contributions and thus, the Nets were unable to chip away at their disadvantage.
Meanwhile, Hamilton continued to knock down his patented mid-range jumper at a high clip and Rose put pressure on the defense with shifty, warp-speed drives in transition, leading to the Bulls ending the third quarter up, 85-68.
Its every aspect of the game. Great leadership, playmaking ability, big shot-making ability and more importantly, he makes the right play. When hes open, he shoots. When hes guarded, he makes the right read and if hes double-teamed, he knows where the holes are, said Thibodeau of Hamilton. He makes the game simple, gets easy shots for people, and he runs the floor and he never stops moving, so it makes your offense hard to be defended and I think that becomes contagious also. We had 33 assists, so the ball was hopping. We got into a pretty good rhythm.
Chimed in Rose: Its way easier, knowing that hes the guy thats creating, helping everyone, it takes a load off of me. Hes a great passer. We can give him the ball and he can create for others.
Hamiltons blend of scoring and playmaking set the tone in the final stanza, with Asik (10 points) and backup point guard C.J. Watson also making contributions that kept the home teams wide winning margin intact.
A lot of plays are the same. Its just learning the different terminology and I think every day, I get better at it. The offense is the offense. Every day I get better at reading my teammates. Its just basketball at the end of the day, said Hamilton. With me, its not just about scoring. Theres so many great players on this team and my job is to try to make everybodys job easy. If its scoring, if its passing or whatever.
Rose did find fault with one aspect of his teams performance.
Playing a 48-minute game. Towards the end of the game, we tend to let teams score a little bit, but hopefully we can fix that pretty soon, he said, disregarding the fact that the Bulls currently have the leagues best record. Its too early. Its way too early. First part of the season. Were not worried about that. We know that weve got a long way to go.
Were playing against a great opponent on Wednesday, an opponent whos going to be really hungry here. Its always exciting to play against Indiana, said Noah about the Bulls upcoming game against their Central Division rivals and last seasons first-round playoff foe. Were focused right now and weve just got to keep it up, have a good practice tomorrow and do it all over again.