Chicago has seen record-low temperatures this month, but inside the United Center the Bulls are hot as they have been all year.
On Dec. 31, Tom Thibodeau's group struggled in an 85-79 loss to the Raptors, dropping them to 12-18 and the ninth seed in the Eastern Conference. But since the calendar flipped to 2014, they've been nearly unstoppable. The Bulls have won 10 of 13 games in January, moving above .500 for the first time since mid-November and are now firmly in the playoff race, holding steady as the No. 5 seed in the lowly East.
There have been plenty of reasons for the Bulls' success, but we've broken it down into four sets of numbers that tell the most:
The unstoppable Jo
Joakim Noah began 2014 with a near-triple double, totaling 17 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists in the Bulls' 94-82 win against the Celtics. As the month went on it was clear Noah was playing the best basketball of the year, but he hasn't slowed down a bit and, with the month nearly over, has put up the best month of his seven-year career.
[TONIGHT ON CSN: Bulls battle Love, Timberwolves]
In 13 January games, Noah is averaging 13.9 points, 14.5 rebounds and 5.6 assists. The rebounds and assists are both career-highs for a single month, and the points are the second-most of his career, behind only the 15.5 points per game he averaged in November 2010. With Derrick Rose out and Luol Deng in Cleveland, the Bulls needed Noah to become "the guy" in Chicago. He's done so with flying colors, and he should earn his second straight All-Star Game bid when reserves are announced Thursday.
Go DJ, that's my DJ
One scouting report on DJ Augustin in 2008 said the Texas point guard "doesn't look for his shot, but he can hit it." Maybe that was an accurate assessment at the time, but fast forward six years and Augustin is putting together the best scoring stretch of his 391-game NBA career. He has totaled 89 points in his last four games, the most points of any four-game stretch of his career. Even more impressive is the fact that the stretch includes a seven-point dud against the Clippers on Friday. But he's been helped by outputs of 27, 27 and 28 points in that span. In fact, it's just the third time in his NBA career that he's scored 20 or more points in three of four games. Here are the five best scoring streaks of Augustin's career:
89 points: Jan. 20 - Jan. 26, 2014
84 points: Nov. 18 - Nov. 24, 2008
83 points: Dec. 27, 2010 - Jan. 3, 2011
82 points: Jan. 20 - Jan. 26, 2011
81 points: Jan. 3 - Jan. 7, 2012
Unexpected success without Deng
When the Bulls traded Luol Deng on Jan. 7, it was expected by many that the team would struggle to compete. Losing a two-time All-Star and a team's leading scorer is never easy, but the past also provided evidence. Including 2013-14, the Bulls were just 19-21 without Deng in the lineup. In just one of those seasons -- 2011-12 -- the Bulls had a winning record (8-4). In the three other seasons (Deng played all 82 regular season games in 2010-11) the Bulls were just 11-17.
Instead, the Bulls have gone 8-3 since trading Deng for Andrew Bynum's contract and three draft picks. It hasn't exactly been the toughest schedule in the league -- in that span they are just 1-3 against current playoff teams -- but wins are wins, and it's been made all the more impressive that not only is Deng out of the lineup, he's actually gone from the team. There was a clear emotional hurdle the rest of the team had to get over, and they've done so nicely.
Locking in defensively
Despite an offense that ranks second-to-last in the NBA (thanks, Milwaukee), the Bulls' defense has been stout all year. And in January they've picked it up a notch. Through the season's first two months, opponents had scored 100 points or more in seven of 30 games (23.3 percent). But in January, just one team has reached the century mark in regulation (Washington, Jan. 13) in 13 tries (7.7 percent). Deng was one of the Bulls' best defenders, but players such as Taj Gibson, Tony Snell and even Mike Dunleavy have improved, helping the Bulls maintain their second-best defensive efficiency.