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Bulls Fri Feb 25 2011
Busy week for the Bulls, if you haven't noticed yet. Joakim Noah returned in his first action since mid-December (a span of 30 games), the Bulls lost to a lowly Toronto team, 118-113, and then returned to Chicago to defeat the Miami Heat last night, 93-89.
Noah was able to stay in shape while rehabbing his hand injury, but he still faces an uphill conditioning battle. In Wednesday's return at Toronto, coach Tom Thibodeau paced him through 24 minutes. Noah finished with only seven points, but he grabbed 16 rebounds, re-establishing his presence in the post. He'll need time to get his offensive touch back as well as regain his chemistry with teammates on the court, but those things will definitely sort themselves out in plenty of time for the playoffs.
Against the Heat last night, Noah had another seven points with eight rebounds in 27 minutes. Chris Bosh, Miami's mobile power forward, had the worst shooting night of his career, hitting 1 of 17 shots from the field. A lot of that is due to the physical play and big reach of Noah and Carlos Boozer, who made him fight for every shot. Making life hard for an opponent isn't often so clearly shown on the box score, but the Bulls' big men did it to Bosh and it showed in the numbers.
So what to make of drastically different games for Chicago two nights apart? Frankly, it all comes down to defense. Once again the Bulls were reminded on Wednesday night that if they don't put in the effort defensively, they can and will lose to anyone.
The Raptors took advantage of a weak effort and shot better than 56 percent. Their 118 points were the second-most scored against Chicago this season. (The Knicks had 120 in their Nov. 4 win here.) Twenty-four hours later, the Bulls held a much more talented Miami Heat squad to 89 points on 40-percent shooting.
But I think the biggest performance last night came from Luol Deng. Derrick Rose led the team in scoring with 26 points, but Deng wasn't far behind with 20 himself, and 10 rebounds to boot. Most impressive though was his poise. When Rose attracted two defenders, Deng often made himself available and coolly punished Miami for leaving him open, hitting several clutch jumpers down the stretch including a tie-breaking 3-pointer with 16 seconds left that put the Bulls ahead for good (video here).
Perhaps Deng said it best after the game, reminding reporters pointedly that despite the fact that he's often overshadowed by Rose, Boozer and Noah, he is more than capable of playing like a seven-year veteran. "It takes more than three guys to make a team," he said. As a player who's averaging 20.5 points in his past four games, perhaps he deserved more credit than he's been getting.
One final box score note: Batted around the past few days amidst Bulls trade talk was Omer Asik's name, as Chicago looked around for a standout shooting guard to add the final piece. But the Bulls chose to stay with chemistry, and Asik more than proved his worth against Miami, collecting 11 rebounds and getting lots of second-half minutes with Noah easing back into the flow. Chicago was plus-17 with him on the floor, proving for at least one night the franchise made a good move keeping him around.