Don’t look now but the Chicago Bulls are beginning to look like contenders again. The Bulls manhandled the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night, 97-58, and star point guard Derrick Rose is reportedly on schedule to return to the lineup after the All-Star break.
That’s great news for the Bulls, bad news for the rest of the league.
“I see him in the gym working really, really hard. He wants to come back 100 percent, so for us we’re just trying to hold it down until he gets back,” Bulls guard Nate Robinson said about Rose, who is close to going full speed in practice.
Robinson has been a pleasant surprise for the Bulls this season. He’s averaging nearly 11 points per game off the bench (playing 21 minutes) and has energized the Chicago second unit.
Rose says he has gained some muscle rehabilitating and his jump shot has improved. If that’s true, look out!
Head coach Tom Thibodeau is not going to rush Rose back into the lineup, and he wants to make sure the face of the franchise is completely sound before he even gets into full scrimmages at practice.
In the meantime, the Bulls are holding it down until Rose returns. The team has won five out of seven and even much-maligned forward Carlos Boozer is playing well. Boozer is averaging 22 points and 10 rebounds in his last seven games, and his frontcourt partner Joakim Noah is averaging a double-double (12 and 10) for the season.
The Bulls held the Hawks to just five points in the second quarter and led 48-20 at the break. Ivan Johnson had a basket for the Hawks with 2:54 left in the first quarter, and Atlanta did not score again until Al Horford’s tip with 5:15 left in the second. The Hawks missed 17 consecutive shots during the drought while getting outscored 14-0.
They finished the 2 for 21 from the field in the second quarter, with Smith making a free throw and a jumper for Atlanta’s other points. The Hawks shot 20.5 percent on 8-of-39 shooting in the first half. Josh Smith was 3-for-10 and Horford 2-for-8 in the first half.
The Bulls set a record for the fewest points allowed, eclipsing the previous mark of 59 by Orlando last March 19. Atlanta’s 20 points in the first half also set a Chicago record for the fewest allowed in a half, bettering the 22 scored by the Knicks in 1999. The Bulls also limited New York to five points in the second quarter of that game.
”We have to play a certain way,” Thibodeau told the Associated Press. ”When we came out I thought Joakim and Carlos set the tone.”
Noah wasn’t surprise by the defensive performance.
”I wasn’t shocked, but our mindset was more be ready for the first 5 or 6 minutes of that third quarter. We had been in positions where we were up by 25, 26 points and lost before. So we feel no lead is big enough,” Noah said.