Derrick Rose

Sometimes it’s Pau Gasol, other times it’s Jimmy Butler, but it’s rare to see Derrick Rose lead the scoring for the Chicago Bulls this season. In a dominant 105-80 win over the Brooklyn Nets, it was finally the case.

Rose led five lineup players in double figures with 23 points on 8-of-15 from the field, adding 4 assists as the Bulls shut the Nets down defensively in the second half, allowing just 29 points, including only 12 in the fourth quarter. Without Joakim Noah (the Bulls can’t have everyone healthy), they still had no problem dominating the glass (57-44) and forcing the Nets to shoot just 33% from the field, with Taj Gibson doing a good job in the lineup, scoring 11 points to go with 10 rebounds and six blocks.

Pau Gasol was quite difficult to shoot against as well, finishing with 16 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks. Gasol might not be the star he was for the Grizzlies and the Lakers in the previous decade, but he’s enjoying his time on a team that puts him in a much more comfortable position to succeed, averaging 19.8 points and 12.2 rebounds per game, statistically his best season since 2006-2007, when he was still in Memphis.

Jimmy Butler was aggressive as usual, disappointed he didn’t get to clash with Joe Johnson (the two have history), scoring 16 points and going to the line 10 times. He only made six of those shots, but one of the big additions to the Bulls’ improving offensive game is Butler attacking the hoop and using something from the James Harden school of throwing your arms around to make it easier for referees to send you to the line. Mike Dunleavy scored 14 points, 12 of them coming from beyond the arc.

The Nets, changing their lineup a little bit due to Lionel Hollins creativity and injuries looked good early on, especially Deron Williams, but the predictable nature of their offense, their lack of speed and athleticism compared to other teams made it easy to shut them down late in the game. The Nets have now twice lost to the Bulls this season, unable to reach 90 points while giving up more than 100. They’ve been held to under 90 points in three consecutive games and haven’t scored more than 100 points since November 19 in a loss to Milwaukee.

For the Bulls, this was the kind of dominant win that hopefully gets them back on the horse, chasing the teams above them in the Eastern conference. The feeling in Chicago is that once everyone is healthy, they are the best in the conference, maybe the league. There’s always some injury, someone missing, holding them back from fulfilling their potential. Rose, when healthy, can make some of those problems seem less worrying.

But in the long run, Noah’s absences are just as crucial as Rose. Taj Gibson is an exciting player but he doesn’t hold down a defense as well as Noah when it comes to movement and closing space. He might be better when it comes to generating highlights, but he doesn’t pass as well as Noah. That’s where Pau Gasol comes into play, but it’s doubtful the Bulls want to have only Nikola Mirotic as a decent front court player coming off the bench.

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