After listening to actor and funnyman Will Farrell provide laughter when he announced pregame introductions, the Chicago Bulls provided their own during Wednesday night's game at New Orleans Arena, leading wire-to-wire in a 90-67 annihilation of the lowly New Orleans Hornets.
Playing in front of a star-studded crowd that also featured actors Zach Galifianakis, Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg, the Bulls became the first team in NBA history to win three consecutive road games, with no home games in between, by 20 or more points. In each of those victories, they were able to build an insurmountable lead and coast until the final buzzer sounded.
Of course, it helps that the Bulls' schedule has lightened up after a tough slate of games earlier in the season. Over the last three games, they have faced teams that have a combined record of 23-55. Obviously, the Hornets traded star point guard Chris Paul before the campaign and aren't nearly the team that took the Los Angeles Lakers to six games in the first round of last season's playoffs. The Bulls were up by as many as 13 points in the first quarter against the Hornets and led 23-14 after the frame ended, once again delivering the knockout punch early in the game.
"Again, I think readiness to play," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters after the game when asked about the positives to take from Wednesday's win. "[In the] first quarter, [we were] well-balanced. Solid defense. And then offensively, the way the ball was moving, it's not sticking anywhere, and we're getting good shots. I was pleased with the overall performance."
Even though Derrick Rose played just 22 minutes on the night, the Bulls' ball movement was contagious from start to finish. They had eight assists on 11 baskets in the first quarter, repeatedly looking for the open man and again exhibiting the type of ball movement that's normally reserved for when Rip Hamilton -- who has missed six games in a row and is out indefinitely -- is in the lineup. Chicago ended the game with 29 assists on 39 baskets while shooting almost 46 percent from the field, their third straight game with 29 or more dimes. Clearly, the ball was hopping, as Thibodeau would say.
For the reigning Coach of the Year, another positive sign to come out of Wednesday's game was the fact that Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer continued to put together solid outings. The duo, much-maligned at times, combined for 33 points and 16 rebounds while shooting 14-for-22 from the field against a Hornets front line that, aside from Chris Kaman, who posted 19 points and seven rebounds, simply didn't stack up as formidably.
And, as usual, Thibodeau's bunch didn't miss a beat when Noah or Boozer checked out of the game. Backup center Omer Asik had his best outing since Jan. 21 against the Charlotte Bobcats, scoring eight points and grabbing eight rebounds in 17 minutes, while Taj Gibson poured in buckets from inside and outside and had his second straight double-digit scoring game, with 14 points on 7-for-12 shooting.
"I thought all four bigs were really good in all aspects," Thibodeau said. "From defense to rebounding to post play to making the extra pass, I thought they played complete games and I thought that set the tone for us."
Indeed, the Bulls were tone-setters en route to their fourth win in a row. The Hornets were pleased that they held the Bulls 90 points, but they were in awe of Thibodeau's squad, especially its defense -- which held New Orleans to a paltry 37.3 percent shooting and almost a franchise-low offensive output.
"Let's be honest, the Bulls are the leading team in the NBA right now for a reason," Kaman told reporters. "For starters, they have a good coach who knows how to coach defensively to help them win games. [Thibodeau] gets them to all play hard and they do a heck of a job on the defensive end. They force you to make plays you're not used to making. Secondly, they have five big guys and every one of them can play. They can rotate them in however they want, and they get it done. It's tough matchups.
"With Derrick Rose, I think he was struggling a little bit tonight, he was hurting a little bit, I guess. You could tell he wasn't himself but he was making plays for other people. C.J. Watson does a good job coming in and backing him up. They've got guys all over the floor; they have a solid team all the way around. They've really done a great of building that organization up."
Added Trevor Ariza: "They play really, really good team defense. They swarm the ball. They did everything that they needed to do to win. They all play hard as hell and they play great together. They're a really good team."
The Bulls did exactly what they had to do Wednesday night -- clobber a bottom feeder, maintain health in the process and move on to the next contest. But make no mistake: in past years the Bulls have had plenty of issues when it comes to learning how to avoid playing down to competition on a game-to-game basis, and although they haven't figured it all out quite yet, they're certainly making strides toward getting there.
"The challenge is to be ready to play, and I thought that we did that," Thibodeau said. "[But] there is a lot of things that we could do better. And that's what we have to strive for ... to make improvement, get better each day, build solid habits and just keep our eye on what's in front of us.
"We try not to change our approach from game-to-game, [have] every practice the same. The challenge is to study, prepare and when the ball goes up, know your opponent well. And know what you're going to try to get accomplished. I think if you build that habit, and you continually work on it and do the right things every day, the results will take care of themselves."