With Joakim Noah resting a sore foot, Kirk Hinrich having his elbow examined, and Carlos Boozer still nursing a sore hamstring, the Chicago Bulls aren't in the best spot health wise to begin a long road trip. However, they've comported themselves well splitting the first two games since the injuries mounted to the Nets and Hawks.
The Brooklyn Nets were playing fairly well with Chicago heading into town and with the Bulls down three starters and a superstar on the road, the game didn't look too promising. As it turned out, the Bulls fought the Nets hard and actually held a small lead for much of the fourth quarter. Ultimately, the Bulls got a big too much bad Nate and not enough good Nate to win the game, but they certainly gave Brooklyn all they could handle.
Chicago played Deng and Gibson the whole game while Butler and Robinson each logged over 40 minutes as well. Hamilton and Belinelli picked up nearly all the lose change minutes with Mohammed and Teague making brief appearances. It was a ton of energy spent to come up with a loss, especially with a game in Atlanta the next night.
My hopes weren't high for an exhausted Bulls team in Atlanta, but Chicago delivered. They leaned on virtually the same players though Radmanovic played a handful of minutes instead of Nazr (and the Bulls were throttled in those minutes, they really miss having a competent fourth big). Deng and Gibson each got short three minute rests, but otherwise the team played small most of the night with Nate, Jimmy, Deng, and Taj each logging 40+ minutes again.
Luol Deng provided scoring whenever the Bulls really needed a hoop or a bailout shot. He shot 10/21 and scored 25 on the night hitting numerous tough fall aways and off the dribble long twos. Nate Robinson chipped in plenty of efficient scoring himself notching 20 points on 8/16 from the field. The prime difference between Saturday and Friday was good Nate vs bad Nate, though Jeff Teague is a much easier match up than Deron Williams.
Taj Gibson had one of the best games of his career with a 19/19 game which gave him a new career high for rebounds and was just a shade off his personal best for points as well. Gibson seemed to dunk a ball once every two minutes largely due to horrible Hawks defense which would leave him alone at the basket over pursuing on help.
Jimmy Butler had a solid game adding 16 points for Chicago. He missed a number of tough finishes around the rim that he's hit recently or else he could have had a monster day. Butler also gave Kyle Korver too much space on the perimeter allowing him to get too many shots up, but otherwise played his typical brand of tremendous defense.
All in all, Deng, Gibson, and Butler all delivered double doubles, and Nate Robinson fell just two assists shy of adding one himself.
So how bad is Rip Hamilton?
With all the injuries, Rip Hamilton is logging just around 20 minutes a game still. Give the Bulls were willing to play really small, why not give Hamilton more burn over inserting Radmanovic in the game? Do we really believe Radmanovic's size was holding back anyone from doing anything or adding any real rebounding to the table?
If nothing else, you'd think you could slide him in at SF to give Deng a breather for a few extra minutes a night. I would think the Bulls could get away with a Nate, Belinelli, Hamilton, Butler, Gibson lineup much better than inserting Vlad or Nazr into that mix. The lineup would at least feature three perimeter threads on offense so have some scoring potential.
How awesome is Tom Thibodeau?
This team just wills its way to victory over and over. It does so against good teams, on the road, with tons of injured guys. It's incredible what Tom pulls out of these guys. Thibodeau won coach of they year in his rookie year was runner up in his second year, and he's deserving again this season. He's got a Bulls team without its superstar on pace to win 50-51 games.
They're third in the East and have the eighth best record overall in the NBA. If Derrick Rose comes back fully healthy after the all-star break it's not difficult to imagine a scenario where the Bulls go into the playoffs as the #1 seed for the third straight year. They're only two games out of first right now, and Miami doesn't look like they give a crap, and I think the Knicks are certainly catchable.
Gar Forman and John Paxson can count their blessings that they got Tom locked up this off-season. I can't imagine how much Brooklyn or the Lakers would offer him if he was a free agent at the end of the year, but I'm guessing it would have eight figure possibility if that's what it took to lure him from the Bulls.
It'd probably be worth it too.