The Chicago Bulls did exactly what they had to do on Friday night when they routed the lifeless, talent-deprived Charlotte Bobcats 95-64 at Time Warner Cable Arena. From start to finish, the Bulls never let up, leading wire-to-wire and delivering an embarrassing loss to yet another NBA bottom feeder.
With Derrick Rose out because of lower back spasms, the Bulls' big men set the tone and thoroughly outworked and outplayed their counterparts. Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson and Omer Asik combined for 44 points, 38 rebounds, two blocks and a plus-minus of plus-60. Trailing by as many as 32 points on the night, the Bobcats emptied their entire bench. But quantity did not equal production for Paul Silas' squad, which received a combined 25 points and 26 rebounds from big men Bismack Biyombo, Boris Diaw, former Bull Tyrus Thomas, D.J. White, DeSagana Diop and Byron Mullens, the latter of whom had 17 points and five rebounds when the two teams faced off last month but went scoreless and missed all five of his field-goal attempts Friday.
Noah, who has put up a double-double in seven of his last 11 games, led the way for the Bulls' front line, with game-highs of 17 points and 14 rebounds (four offensive) while shooting 7-for-9 from the field in 30 minutes of action. All night he took advantage of the fact that the Bobcats' starting front line featured three players who are listed as about 6-foot-9. The Bulls started to really break the game open in the third quarter. Noah began the second half with a dish to Luol Deng for a layup, a couple of hustle plays on the glass, a left-handed hook shot, a layup and a pass to Boozer for a two-handed dunk as the Bulls took a 71-42 over seven minutes into the third.
Over the past month, Noah has performed at an All-Star level, and there's a good chance that the sixth-year veteran would have joined his teammates, Derrick Rose and Deng, in the annual showcase had he opened the season like the way he's playing now. He and Boozer, who scored 10 of his 16 points in the third frame, have meshed well during the Bulls' nine-game road trip, and although Bulls fans want the duo to put up big-time numbers when the team faces tougher, scarier opponents, they have clearly come a long way since being the targets for criticism earlier in the campaign.
"Jo was great in every aspect," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters after the game. "Running the floor; defense; energy; rebounding; multiple effort; anchoring the defense; [and] passing the ball. ... Carlos started off the game well and then in the third quarter I thought [he] was very active."
On Wednesday, New Orleans Hornets center Chris Kaman spoke glowingly about the Bulls organization, praising the way the front office has been able to to build the team into a contender. But, for Kaman, one of the most impressive attributes of the Bulls' attack on a game-to-game basis is their depth up front.
That showed once again against the Bobcats, as Gibson poured in eight points to go along with six rebounds and Asik grabbed 12 boards in just 16 minutes. Early in the second quarter, Gibson essentially led a 2-on-1 fastbreak and made a sleek bounce pass to Asik for an emphatic two-handed dunk, again verifying that the tandem have a comfort level with each other.
Aside from having the reigning league MVP, the Bulls' size could very well separate them from other teams when the postseason rolls around. It is one of the many luxuries Thibodeau has on the roster, and outings like Friday give credence to that point.
"Our big guys played with a lot of energy," Thibodeau told the assembled media. "And Taj was solid throughout."
Still, the Bulls' big men know they must put forth similar efforts in games that produce much more intensity, a bigger stage and a nastier foe. They did what everyone expected them to do on Friday against the Michael Jordan-owned Bobcats. Yet, for each Bull, there's still plenty more work to be done -- which is as expected given that Thibodeau is never satisfied, and he was even occasionally irate with his bunch against Charlotte despite the fact that they led by double figures throughout the contest.
"We're focused right now. We're just trying to play the right way," Noah said. "Whatever the challenge is, we're trying to play the right way. I think we're definitely getting better; it's a good feeling. There's a big one coming up on Sunday [against the Boston Celtics] and we just didn't want to have any let downs [in] this game. We handled our business."