With star point guard Derrick Rose returning from a four-game absence, the Chicago Bulls essentially led wire-to-wire in a 110-95 victory over the New Jersey Nets on Monday night at the United Center. The Bulls improved to a league-best 16-3.
Yet again, the Bulls had a balanced attack, placing six players in double figures, including all five starters. Rip Hamilton continues to show his offensive versatility and posted 22 points, 10 assists and a plus-minus of plus-21, a game-high, while shooting 10-for-16 from the field against the Nets. Rose's sore left big toe didn't seem to bother him as he dropped 22 points on 9-for-15 shooting and eight assists and made several athletic plays, as usual. After missing Saturday night's 95-89 win over the Charlotte Bobcats, center Joakim Noah also joined Hamilton in the double-double club, with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Ronnie Brewer, starting in place of Luol Deng, added 11 points and five rebounds, helping coach Tom Thibodeau's bunch get off to a good start in the first quarter, while Carlos Boozer had 14 points and nine rebounds, scoring six points in the final two minutes of the game, and Omer Asik had 10.
The Bulls led 28-18 through one quarter of play, 59-43 at halftime and never looked back. They piled up a season-high 33 assists, the fourth straight game they've had 26 or more dimes. Leading the squad's crisp ball movement, Hamilton garnered plenty of attention from the Nets big men and exhibited his passing skills, often times underrated, all night. He was also knocking down the mid-range jumper as smoothly as he has this season, knocking down 8-of-13. The Bulls have raved about Hamilton's ability to fit right into the unselfish culture ever since the veteran shooting guard signed with the team early in training camp. He's clearly feeling more comfortable in Thibodeau's offense with each passing day.
However, there's no question that Bulls fans were again alarmed with the fact that Thibdoeau kept his key players in the contest when his team had a double-digit lead. The Nets -- who were led by Jordan Farmar's 22 points, while Deron Williams chipped in 16 points and 10 assists -- trailed by as "little" as 14 points in the fourth quarter, which the Bulls began ahead 85-68. Still, Thibodeau stuck to his stars. Among them were Hamilton, Rose and Boozer, who played 42, 36 and 33 minutes, respectively. With the Bulls on top 101-84 with three minutes, 33 seconds left, even Noah checked back in for Brian Scalabrine, who had five points and four assists in 22 minutes.
Of course, finding rest for critical players is as important as ever in this condensed, 66-game regular season that has seen a multitude of players go down around the league. However, Thibodeau stayed true to his game plan and substitution pattern against the lowly Nets, who were again minus Brook Lopez. Bulls fans shouldn't look for the reigning Coach of the Year to change any time soon, because he won't. His schemes led the Bulls to a 62-20 record a season ago, and this year, the franchise's best start since the historic 1996-97 campaign.
Although the Bulls shot 57.3 percent from the field on Monday night, Thibodeau certainly won't be pleased with the Nets' 48.1 percent shooting, not to mention the visitors' 52 second-half points. After holding their first five home opponents 66.8 points per game, the Bulls have given up an average of 93.6 in the last three contests at the United Center.
Next up, the Bulls have a day off Tuesday before playing the third game of their four-game homestand on Wednesday night against the Indiana Pacers (11-4) at the United Center.