Despite the fact that Derrick Rose was a late scratch because of lower back spasms, the Chicago Bulls blew out the Charlotte Bobcats 95-64 on Friday night at Time Warner Cable Arena. The Bulls improved to 23-6, the league’s best record, and 6-2 on their season-long, nine-game road trip.
The Bulls placed four players in double figures against a lowly Bobcats team that dropped to 3-23. Joakim Noah dropped his 10th double-double of the season, with 17 points and 14 rebounds to go along with three assists, while fellow front-court starter Carlos Boozer scored 16. Fresh off the first All-Star berth of his eight-year NBA career, Luol Deng had 12 points, four assists and three rebounds. In place of Rose, C.J. Watson — who has lobbied to participate in the Three-Point Shootout at All-Star Weekend and admitted to me Thursday that he is still working his way back to 100 percent health — scored seven points, dished out five assists and made four steals. Watson’s backup, John Lucas III, poured in 11 points on 4-for-8 shooting.
For the fourth straight game, the Bulls imposed their will on the opponent from the outset. They led 30-16 through one quarter of play while shooting a blistering 13-for-25 from the field, and they extended their lead to 56-34 at halftime. Deng continued to do it all for the Bulls, especially in the opening frame when he had 10 points on two three-pointers. The 6-foot-9 small forward is still dealing with a torn ligament in his left wrist but is 9-for-21 from beyond the arc in four games since returning from a seven-game absence. As the Bulls have done plenty of times this season, they got off to a quick start, built an insurmountable lead, and never looked back.
There’s no question that Bulls fans expected coach Tom Thibodeau’s bunch to thrash the Bobcats — with or without Rose, the reigning league MVP. The Bulls are now 5-1 this season minus the 6-foot-3 point guard. Watson and Lucas have continually proven that they are more than capable of filling the void at point guard. Plus, it always helps when the Bulls’ defense is rolling like it was on Friday. The Bobcats shot a paltry 32.9 percent from the field; 1-for-8 (12.5 percent) from three-point range; were outrebounded by the Bulls 53-44; and turned it over 16 times. The Michael Jordan-owned Bobcats had only one player in double figures, Derrick Brown, although he did his damage during garbage time.
Obviously, Chicago fans are hopeful that Rose’s back issue is nothing serious. Rose told reporters earlier in the day that he believed he would play against the Bobcats, but he seemingly suffered a setback during pregame warmups. Both Thibodeau and Rose have repeatedly said this season that Rose ultimately decides whether he can battle through an injury to play in a game. Clearly, Rose didn’t feel as if he was healthy enough to face Charlotte. At this point, the Bulls are simply hoping the 23-year-old’s back injury isn’t a long-term problem.
But they know that they can go out and defeat almost any team in the league even without Rose, especially a squad like the Bobcats. The Bulls have won four consecutive road games, with no home game in between, by 20 or more points — an NBA record.
Next up, the Bulls have a day off Saturday before wrapping up their road trip with a nationally televised tilt against the Boston Celtics on Sunday afternoon at TD Garden. They’ll be looking for their sixth win in a row.