With Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and John Lucas III all sidelined nursing various injuries, the Chicago Bulls weren't really threatened and pulled out a 95-89 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats on Saturday night at the United Center. The Bulls improved to 15-3, the league's best record.
The Bulls had four players in double figures, three of which reached the 20-point plateau. Carlos Boozer continued his strong, aggressive play, posting 23 points, nine rebounds and three steals while shooting 10-for-22 from the field in 37 minutes of action against the Bobcats. Luol Deng logged almost 40 minutes and helped the Bulls take 50-43 lead into halftime, scoring 15 first-half points. He ended up with 22 to go along with eight rebounds. Rip Hamilton added 20 points, 10 of which in a third quarter that coach Tom Thibodeau's bunch scored 30 points. In Noah's absence, Omer Asik made his first career start and produced a much-needed, high-energy performance. He dropped six points, 15 rebounds, three steals and two blocks in a career-high 38 minutes.
Both teams were neck-and-neck through three quarters of play. Each time the Bulls would attempt to distance themselves and take an eight- or a nine-point lead, the Bobcats would cut the deficit. Bobcats guard Gerald Henderson came on in the second half and finished with 22 points and nine rebounds, while Bryon Mullens had 17 points and five rebounds, giving Asik some issues from inside and outside.
The Bulls shot 47.1 percent from the field and piled up 26 assists on 40 field-goals. Point guard C.J. Watson made his third start of the season and put up 11 points and eight assists. He did an excellent job of running the team once again and suffocated his counterpart, D.J. Augustin, who had just three points and missed 5-of-6 shots. Mike James, last week's free-agent acquisition, stepped up with Lucas, his good friend, out, scoring nine points and dishing out 10 assists in just over 16 minutes. Watson and James had only three turnovers between them as the Bulls did a good job of taking care of the ball, turning it over eight times.
Thibodeau has made it clear that his star point guard will return to the lineup whenever he feels ready -- but Watson, Lucas and James have shown they can fill the void together.
Still, Thibodeau certainly won't be pleased with the Bulls' defense, although he rarely ever is. His team led 91-72 with six minutes, 48 seconds left in the fourth quarter but allowed a 10-0 run to the Bobcats, who shot 47.3 percent on the night. The visitors also outrebounded the Bulls 44-37, although that may have been expected given the fact that Noah and Gibson were out. The Bobcats cut the Bulls' edge to 91-82 with under three minutes left, but their surge was a too little, too late.
Next up, the Bulls have a day off Sunday before playing the second game of their four-game homestand on Monday night against the New Jersey Nets (4-12) at the United Center.