Some things happen to be a coincidence, but the effect of belief and morale improvement on athletes despite no change in the personnel means one thing: The news of Derrick Rose getting closer to his return, taking full contact in Chicago Bulls practices, has actually made his teammates better.
The Bulls, 28-17 after their 104-88 win against the Milwaukee Bucks, have won five of their last six games and are an overall 12-4 in the month of January, putting them at third in the East, two and a half games behind the Miami Heat. No regular go-to-guy. Just defense, hustle and everything you expect a team lacking premier talent to be as they continue to pick up wins, especially on the road, where they’re the best in the NBA.
This time it was Nate Robinson making his statement for the leading backup point guard in the near future (and there will be a battle for minutes once Rose returns), in an almost perfect shooting night off the bench. Robinson scored 24 points while shooting 9-11 from the field, including 2-3 from beyond the arc.
Tom Thibodeau was extremely pleased with another fine defensive performance from his team, but also with the hard to predict backup guard, and with Jimmy Butler, doing an excellent job since filling in for Luol Deng: Nate played with great energy, which was a huge plus. Jimmy is a big lift. He can guard, he can score and play multiple positions and make hustle plays. He’s doing a lot for us. He’s a big part of this team.
Butler came off the bench to play 27 minutes, scoring 18 points and adding 6 rebounds. Deng isn’t taking it easy coming back from his injury, playing 40 minutes on a bad shooting night (6-18), scoring 12 points, grabbing 13 rebounds and adding 5 assists. The Bulls scored half their points off the bench, with Marco Belinelli scoring 8 points as well. Joakim Noah (12 points, 12 rebounds), Taj Gibson starting instead of Carlos Boozer (14 points, 9 rebounds) and Rip Hamilton with 11 points gave Chicago 104 points, continuing the trend of winning every time they score over 100 points. This was the 41st consecutive win for the Bulls while scoring 100 points or more, which is tied for the longest in NBA history.
The Bulls continue to play not so pretty basketball, although their 27 assists, with Kirk Hinrich dishing 8 on a bad shooting night from him after a pretty hot (relatively) period for the veteran guard, but their defense, forcing 18 turnovers and keeping the Bucks under 42% from the field create so many easy points through it, scoring 66 in the paint, having no problem what so ever dominating the Bucks’ inferior front -line, even without Boozer on the roster. Taj Gibson did think he’d be getting more minutes this season, which turned out to be wrong, but had no problem stepping in and immediately upgrading his production once he got more minutes.
Jimmy Butler might be one of the finds of the season, suddenly becoming a more legitimate and important part of the rotation. One injury, Luol Deng’s, helped the Bulls come up with an extra piece for their rotation. Another injury, one that’s ending, Derrick Rose’s, is filling the Bulls with enough energy and motivation to look better and better as the season progresses.