After a four-day layoff and starting the second half of the season against a short-handed team they had already defeated by 23 just two weeks ago, The Bulls (28-8) would get all they could handle from the New Orleans Hornets (8-26), holding on for a 99-95 win.
Derrick Roses 19-foot jumper broke a tie ballgame at 95 to put the Bulls up ahead for good. It was the same play the Bulls used to beat the Atlanta Hawks back on Jan. 3rd, the only difference being Luol Deng was open after a back-door cut.
You would be surprised how much we practice that play said Joakim Noah.
After a 13-0 run by New Orleans put Chicago down 95-91 with 1:25 remaining, the Bulls turned up their defense forcing the Hornets into a missed field goal and a turnover on their final two offensive possessions and finishing the game on an 8-0 run to finish the game and are now 14-2 at home.
Rose led the team with 32 points to go with nine assists. Noah finished with 15 points, 16 rebounds and Deng and Carlos Boozer (11 rebounds) both finished with 14 points.
After sitting the last 13 games, Richard Hamilton returned to the starting lineup for Chicago and five points and five assists in just under 17 minutes of action.
I thought turnovers hurt us, said Bulls Coach Tom Thibodeau. The second shot hurt us. They didnt shot a high percentage but I thought they got to the line. We were closing to their drivers not under control, so that got them to the line some, but well take the win.
We played them in New Orleans, they were short-handed, they had just gotten Chris Kaman back and theyre playing a lot better, continued Thibodeau. Theyre playing teams real tough, they got some wins right before the break, so theyre playing with more confidence. As they get players back, that team is a very good team. They play hard, they play together and their tough. Their record doesnt indicate how good they are.
It appeared readiness wouldnt be an issue in the first period as the Bulls offense ran smoothly as they jumped ahead by 10 points early in the period, before the scrappy New Orleans Hornets winners of four out of their last 10 closed their deficit to 30-26 going into the second quarter.
With all starters healthy for the first time this season since Dec. 30ths contest against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Bulls Bench Mob was at full strength, but couldnt provide their usual energy to increase the Bulls lead and the Hornets beneficiaries of the whistles strong free throw shooting in the first half (15-15) and Chicago being out of sync allowed the visitors to outscore them 24-17 in the period, giving them a 50-47 lead at the half.
I thought we had a few possessions in a row where we were careless on the break and that also let them back into the game, said Thibodeau. We were trading buckets with them for a while and they took the lead.
The Bulls started the second half strong, nailing eight of their first 12 shots and avenged a disappointing first half, shooting 54 percent and outscoring New Orleans 29-20 in the period and forcing them into 34 percent shooting.
Leading 76-70, going into the fourth, the Bulls begin the period on a 7-to-2 run to push their lead to 11, when the Hornets made their run to take a four-point lead, setting up Chicagos run and defensive stand.
We definitely held it together and we played defense towards the end, said Rose. I think thats the best we played throughout the whole game.
Chicago will hit the road for three-straight games and lead the NBA in road wins (14-6).
Even with the road trip, the Bulls are pleased to have all hands on deck, but as is the season youll hear often after Bulls wins.
We have to knock the rust off a little bit, said Rose.
Everybody is coming back from vacation and being with their families and were just happy that we got the win. The most important game now is tomorrow, where were playing against a team thats playing great right now.
The San Antonio Spurs (24-10) are winners of 12 of their last 13 games.