Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011Posted: 10:00 a.m.
There's one last stop on the San Antonio Spurs' rodeo trip, which has done nothing to dispute their title as the NBA's best team heading into the All-Star break.
The Chicago Bulls might not be too far behind.
The Spurs try to close out their nine-game trip with a seventh victory Thursday night against the Bulls, who are looking for a 15th win in 16 games at the United Center.
San Antonio (46-9) has lost consecutive games just once, has reeled off three winning streaks of at least eight games and has been the NBA's top road team at 21-7.
The Spurs opened their annual rodeo trip with a loss to Portland but have won six of seven since, with only a poor shooting effort Friday at Philadelphia slowing them down. San Antonio bounced back with a 24-point win at Washington a night later, then cruised past New Jersey 102-85 on Monday.
A victory Thursday would give the Spurs their most wins on the rodeo trip since the 2002-03 team wrapped up its nine-game journey with eight straight victories. That team went on to win the NBA title.
"They're feeling a few bumps and bruises, but they're character guys," coach Gregg Popovich said. "They're professionals, and they know what's expected of them. They know where they want to be at the end of the year and they're working towards that. So no game can be left without trying to get better."
That's an approach the Bulls (37-16) seem to be taking, and they're about to get another boost when center Joakim Noah returns from thumb surgery after the break.
They've been doing awfully well without him. Only the Spurs, at 21-5, have a better record than the Bulls' 19-6 mark since Dec. 26. Luol Deng paved the way to their ninth win in 11 games Tuesday night, scoring 24 points in a 106-94 victory over Charlotte.
Chicago has surrendered an average of 84.5 points in its last 15 games at the United Center.
"Guys are extremely confident," forward Carlos Boozer said. "We're a team - not just one guy, two guys, three guys; we're a group of guys. Everybody on this team, whether you're starting or off the bench, can play in the NBA and play well."
Boozer was still recovering from a broken right hand during Chicago's stop in San Antonio on Nov. 17, part of its annual circus trip, and the Bulls could have used him.
Tim Duncan had 16 points and 18 rebounds as San Antonio rallied from a 17-point first-half deficit to win 103-94. Taj Gibson, filling in for Boozer, missed all seven shots and didn't score.
Boozer dominated the Spurs last season with Utah, averaging 25.8 points and 11.3 rebounds in four wins.
"We're looking forward to playing them," Boozer told the Bulls' official website. "We've played other great teams during the season. It's another big game before the break gets here."
While the battle between Boozer and Duncan should be intriguing, DeJuan Blair might give the Spurs an edge in the paint - particularly with Noah out. The 6-foot-8 center has averaged 13.4 points and 11.0 boards on the road trip.
Two of the league's premier scoring point guards should provide an excellent matchup in the backcourt. Chicago's Derrick Rose scored 33 points in the first meeting, while San Antonio's Tony Parker had 21.
The Spurs, who have split their last four visits to Chicago, are 31-2 when Parker scores 17 points or more.
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