The Bulls and Rockets were both coming off tough losses on Tuesday. Chicago stormed back to embarrass an awfully good Rockets team while the Rockets got smacked around by a somewhat suspect Bulls squad.
Mike Dunleavy took a vicious elbow to the head while drawing a charge in the second quarter and had to get 10 stitches over half time. When the Bulls came out of half time nursing an eight point lead, I thought I don't know about him coming back into this game. I needn't have worried.
Dunleavy scored eight points and secured two boards as part of a 16-0 nothing run to start the third quarter. The Bulls lead swelled to the mid-20s and the Rockets went out with a whimper not even remotely threatening to do anything the rest of the night.
Dunleavy finished the night with 21 points to lead all scorers [tied with Jeremy Lin], and his 4/6 from beyond the arc helped Chicago earn their best performance behind the three point line of the season. Chicago's shooting can be awfully sketchy at times, but they were 14/24 beyond the arc as a whole due to Houston's porous defense and plenty of wide open corner attempts.
D.J. Augustin shot "just" 3-7 beyond the arc, but his first two makes were part of a key second quarter run when the Rockets had brought the lead down to a point. Augustin played at a very high level that second period with both his passing and shooting to bring the Bulls lead back up to eight at the half.
Hinrich knocked down 5-6 beyond the arc as well, largely in the second half, largely in garbage time, but made sure that Houston wouldn't consider a comeback. While it was a great shooting night for Hinrich, his play defensively, along with Jimmy Butler, on James Harden was more noteworthy.
Butler and Hinrich combined to completely take Harden out of the game, and the Rockets simply looked lost trying to create offense. Their sets rely almost exclusively on Harden or Howard opening up quality shots for the squad. The rest of the offense looked rather pathetic once those two were forced into poor nights.
Joakim narrowly misses a triple double again
The Bulls might have to pay the luxury tax if Joakim Noah makes the all NBA 1st team. I would have said there's no way he deserves it over Dwight Howard, however, there's a story forming around Noah. There's talks of him getting MVP votes. There's the fact that Joakim just outplayed the hell out of Howard head to head on national television.
I love Joakim Noah, but if I could swap out Noah for Howard, it'd be a done deal. That said, it will be interesting to see if the Bulls end up having to pay Noah that performance bonus this season. Noah fell just one assist shy of a triple double, and quite honestly, it didn't even look like he cared or was aware of how close he was.
It was totally different than when Luol Deng was struggling to get that final assist and the whole team conspired to try to get Deng the attempt. It's just not special when Joakim Noah is near a triple double anymore. He's been near a triple double a half dozen times this year where he didn't get one.
However, Noah's biggest contributions, much like Hinrich, go beyond what he did on the offensive end of the court. He frustrated and annoyed Dwight Howard into a seven turnover performance where he got up just seven shots. Howard made five of those, but the majority of his damage was done with Carlos Boozer defending him.
This was amongst the best I've ever seen Noah defend Howard. He got physically pushed around at times, but he stole the ball, did a nice job of denying the entry past, took charges, and forced Howard to give up the ball frequently. Dwight looked visibly frustrated for most of the night.
The only thing which could have made the night better is if Noah picked up a triple double on a pass to Jimmer Fredette who did eventually get into the game to raucous cheers.
Jimmer looks like a much better player than Tony Snell to me even though his playing time is very limited. At this point, I'd be a fan of limiting Snell's minutes to zero in favor of giving Jimmer a couple games with a look when it matters.
Tonight was a wasted opportunity to get Jimmer a look. The game was effectively over by the end of the third period. Chicago's lead had swollen to around 30 points [can't quite recall if they broke the 30 barrier] and Houston looked entirely listless.
Bulls holding their own against the elite so far
Chicago entered a tougher schedule towards the end of February. Since that point they've played a number of teams considerably over .500 and have gathered wins against Brooklyn, @Toronto, Golden State, @Dallas, Miami, and Houston with losses against @Miami, @Brooklyn, Memphis, San Antonio.
Against the best of the best, (Miami x2, San Antonio, Houston), they're 2-2. The Rockets had the most wins of any team in the NBA since Jan 1, and Chicago just wiped them out.
I still think the playoffs will expose the Bulls flaws. We all do. For good reason. However, I have to admit, there's a growing little part of me that is open to the possibility that Chicago could give a real series to the Pacers or Heat even if they lose.
Chicago's still got some tough competition coming up with games against OKC, a pair against Indiana, and one against Portland. However, after those four it looks like pretty smooth sailing the rest of the way.
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