MIAMIThe Bulls have had a case of schizophrenia as of late.
Big win against New York at Madison Square Garden, blowout road loss to Atlanta, then the Christmas Day debacle at home to Houston. Back on track with an expected win over the woeful Wizards at home, shocking loss to lowly Charlotte at the United Center.
Then, on their just-completed two-game Florida road trip, they bounced back with a solid win over a competitive Orlando squad, followed by Friday nights inspiring win over the defending-champion Heat. To paraphrase Joakim Noah, this is a team with the ability to beat the best of them, but not above losing to the bottom-of-the-barrel teams in the NBA.
Thats one thing about the league; its so hard. Every team has talent. Its rough to get up for some of the teams that are having a bad season, but its so easy to get up for the guys that are the defending champs, Taj Gibson observed. We just have to turn it around. We understand that were capable of winning a lot of games, but its just a great trip for us. We needed to get away on the road and we got two solid wins, and we need to build on it.
Carlos Boozer concurred: We had a little bit of a lull last week, but since the New Year hit, we all have a conscious effort of trying to play a lot betterrebound, play together, defense, share the ball offensivelyand you guys see in January, were playing a lot betterwe know for us, we want to use this momentum to keep playing well.
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Kirk Hinrich added: This is a big win, big road trip for us. We hadnt been playing as well coming in and its two big wins, and weve just got to keep building to not take any steps back.
They all count the same, but if you can get big wins like this and build on them, and not take steps back, I think they can have big meaning. Im not saying this is it or isnt it, but in any season, I think theres turning points, wins or losses in the season, that can give you momentum.
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, in his usual fashion, took all of the emotion out of it. He attributed his teams current two-game winning streak to execution and work ethic.
Our guys, the past couple of games, that balls been hopping. No ones holding on to it, no ones dancing with it and thats what you have to do to win and so, when you get a whole team thats committed to putting everything they have into each and every day, youll improve, he said about the Bulls offensive flow, before turning to the outstanding play of the frontcourt rotation recently. Im pleased that were moving in the right direction, but the challenge is for us to do it each and every day, not only in games, but in practice. We have to understand how important practicing well is and how that leads to improvement, and playing well in games. But our frontline, I think, is playing well very well right now.
Regarding Friday night specifically, Gibson said the teams improved healthhes dealt with nagging ankle issues, Hinrich has had a spate of ailments all season, Noah is coming off a bout with the flu and Luol Deng has played through injuries all seasonhelped matters. However, he also put the onus on the players, citing himself, the recipient of a contract extension at the outset of the season, specifically.
Were just getting healthy right now. Thats the main thing. Weve got a lot of guys that were banged up, injuries. Thibs has stressed that we need to get back on our grind, as far as rebounding the ball, the last two games. We rebounded the ball real well, especially tonight. We really dominated. A lot of close tip-ins, a lot of aggressive, in-traffic, hard-nosed rebounds, he explained. We understand that we have to do our job, especially me. I have to step up, especially with my new contract, and I have to do what I can.
Deng, who made reigning league MVP LeBron James earn all 30 of his points Friday, told CSNChicago.com that the key to the win was the Bulls selflessness.
We were doing so well with executing, dropping the ball inside. I know I didnt shoot well, but I didnt even look to shoot that much. We had to be smart. Weve learned in the past that theyre an over-help team and we could get them inside, he said. Booz was doing great, Taj, Jo. We just kept going with them. Honestly, great team effort and just staying focused with what we were doing. It never got out of hand or anything, stayed focused and got it.
The performance of backup point guard, particularly in the fourth quarter, cant be overlooked. The diminutive scorer poured in 13 key points, but besides his typical instant offense, he took a big charge, got a big steal and was generally a whirling dervish on both ends of the floor.
Just to bring energy, man. Honestly, thats one of my best attributes to the game and to this team, is to fire guys up and play as hard as I can, Robinson said, before the former college football player discussed giving up his body on defense.. Just being in the right spot at the right time. It just shows that weve got each others' back, no matter where we are on the court.
Every game means something and for us, were just trying to play as hard as we can for as long as we can, play together and we did that tonight.
Thibodeau and Noah had different, if similarly appreciative reactions to Robinsons effort.
He was huge, man! Noah exclaimed, discussing one of Robinson's crowd-silencing sequences. "That charge and then the trey ball, it got meI havent been hype like that in a long time.
His more subdued coach chimed in: Nate played very well. He made some shots and we needed it. He competed defensively, he got open on a couple pick-and-roll plays and he knocked some big shots down.
However they want to term the play of Robinson or the entire team, it worked Friday night. Now, if they can put lightning in a bottle and figure out how to muster up that type of consistent effort, regardless of the opponent, on a nightly basis, then all of a sudden, this overlooked Bulls team could develop into the Eastern Conferences best-kept secret.