LIVE: Bulls can make statement vs. NBA-best Spurs

390437.jpg

LIVE: Bulls can make statement vs. NBA-best Spurs

Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011Posted: 10:00 a.m.

Associated Press

There's one last stop on the San Antonio Spurs' rodeo trip, which has done nothing to dispute their title as the NBA's best team heading into the All-Star break.

The Chicago Bulls might not be too far behind.

The Spurs try to close out their nine-game trip with a seventh victory Thursday night against the Bulls, who are looking for a 15th win in 16 games at the United Center.

San Antonio (46-9) has lost consecutive games just once, has reeled off three winning streaks of at least eight games and has been the NBA's top road team at 21-7.

The Spurs opened their annual rodeo trip with a loss to Portland but have won six of seven since, with only a poor shooting effort Friday at Philadelphia slowing them down. San Antonio bounced back with a 24-point win at Washington a night later, then cruised past New Jersey 102-85 on Monday.

A victory Thursday would give the Spurs their most wins on the rodeo trip since the 2002-03 team wrapped up its nine-game journey with eight straight victories. That team went on to win the NBA title.

"They're feeling a few bumps and bruises, but they're character guys," coach Gregg Popovich said. "They're professionals, and they know what's expected of them. They know where they want to be at the end of the year and they're working towards that. So no game can be left without trying to get better."

That's an approach the Bulls (37-16) seem to be taking, and they're about to get another boost when center Joakim Noah returns from thumb surgery after the break.

They've been doing awfully well without him. Only the Spurs, at 21-5, have a better record than the Bulls' 19-6 mark since Dec. 26. Luol Deng paved the way to their ninth win in 11 games Tuesday night, scoring 24 points in a 106-94 victory over Charlotte.

Chicago has surrendered an average of 84.5 points in its last 15 games at the United Center.

"Guys are extremely confident," forward Carlos Boozer said. "We're a team - not just one guy, two guys, three guys; we're a group of guys. Everybody on this team, whether you're starting or off the bench, can play in the NBA and play well."

Boozer was still recovering from a broken right hand during Chicago's stop in San Antonio on Nov. 17, part of its annual circus trip, and the Bulls could have used him.

Tim Duncan had 16 points and 18 rebounds as San Antonio rallied from a 17-point first-half deficit to win 103-94. Taj Gibson, filling in for Boozer, missed all seven shots and didn't score.

Boozer dominated the Spurs last season with Utah, averaging 25.8 points and 11.3 rebounds in four wins.

"We're looking forward to playing them," Boozer told the Bulls' official website. "We've played other great teams during the season. It's another big game before the break gets here."

While the battle between Boozer and Duncan should be intriguing, DeJuan Blair might give the Spurs an edge in the paint - particularly with Noah out. The 6-foot-8 center has averaged 13.4 points and 11.0 boards on the road trip.

Two of the league's premier scoring point guards should provide an excellent matchup in the backcourt. Chicago's Derrick Rose scored 33 points in the first meeting, while San Antonio's Tony Parker had 21.

The Spurs, who have split their last four visits to Chicago, are 31-2 when Parker scores 17 points or more.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott wasn’t exactly hunting for his first shot, but the first time he touched the ball in an NBA game in nearly a month wasn’t the optimal situation for him to let one fly.

It wasn’t in transition where he runs to an opening behind the 3-point line, nor was it a drive-and-kick situation where the help defense collapsed and left him open. It was a regular, simple, pass to the perimeter and McDermott’s defender was in reasonable proximity with 3:23 left in the first quarter.

He launched and the crowd soon roared its approval as his sweet jumper was sorely missed by the Bulls bench brigade—and moments later when he ran the floor for a fearless layup that caused Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to call a timeout, McDermott showed he missed the United Center crowd too, calling for more noise on his way to the bench.

“Anytime you have a guy like Doug, he comes back and makes his first 3, that’s hard to do,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He stepped up with confidence on that first shot. I’m sure he had a lot of nerves getting back out there.”

Missing 12 games and suffering two concussions, McDermott looked right at home in 25 minutes of run Thursday as the Bulls were able to rely on their reserves in some form in their 95-91 win over the previously perfect road warriors known as the Spurs.

“We defended and kept them off the foul line,” McDermott said. “Coach (Jim) Boylen was with them, so we feel we know them and I think all this time they were missing my defense.”

[SHOP: Get your Bulls gear right here]

The last statement was certainly tongue-in-cheek, but the Bulls’ bench production was certainly missing in action while he was out with the concussion protocol. So much so that his return prompted the Bulls’ coaching staff to call out the reserves in the morning shootaround, demanding more.

“It’s definitely Dwyane (Wade) and Jimmy (Butler) and (Rajon) Rondo (but) the coaching staff kinda called out our bench like, we gotta have you tonight, bench,” McDermott said. “We took that to heart, we were really locked in.”

Seemingly his presence aided the Bulls’ spirits and production, as the Bulls’ bench had the least effective scoring bench in the NBA since Nov. 13, the day after McDermott hit the unforgiving floor against the Wizards for his second concussion this season.

Their net rating ranks ahead of only the Wizards, Mavericks and Nets, who are a combined 17-45 this season. Their effective field goal percentage, which takes into account 3-pointers, is worst in the league in that span (42.3 percent).

When McDermott was healthy for that smaller sample size, the Bulls’ bench ranked fifth in offensive efficiency, seventh in net rating, and fifth in efficient field goal percentage. Whether McDermott – and his absence – was directly related to those numbers, it’s clear the Bulls are better when they have their best reserve – and only true floor spacers on the second unit – on the court.

“We’re all professionals and we want to help the guys who are busting their butts in the first unit to get us the leads,” McDermott said. “Tonight we did a great job of sustaining it. We take it personal when teams come back on us.”

[MORE: Pau Gasol relishes consistency with Spurs he couldn't find with Bulls]

Nikola Mirotic was four of eight from the field, and Cristiano Felicio seems to be back in Fred Hoiberg’s good graces as he’s carved out a rotation spot for himself with nine points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes.

It seems as if Hoiberg will stick with this rotation of players, at least for a little while until Michael Carter-Williams returns from his injuries. If McDermott is the mark of the Bulls’ bench going from bottom feeder to adequate, it should show this month.

“When he’s out there on the floor and we get him coming off screens, it forces the defense to shift as another person they need to be aware of,” Hoiberg said. “It opens up driving lanes for our guys. It was great to have Doug back with us.”

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

Here are some of the top Chicago sports stories from

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Rangers tonight on CSN

Bulls erase recent struggles, hand Spurs first road loss of season

Joe Maddon breaks down Wade Davis vs. Aroldis Chapman as Cubs ramp up for another World Series run

Rick Hahn: White Sox 'still thoroughly, deeply engaged' in trade talks as meetings close

Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook out vs. Rangers

Pau Gasol relishes consistency with Spurs he couldn't find with Bulls

Bears, Lions have been totally different teams in fourth quarters

Report: Dexter Fowler closing in on deal with Cardinals

Blackhawks improve faceoffs in Jonathan Toews’ absence

Cubs unveil championship Trophy Tour