CLEVELANDJust the insinuation that John Lucas III was somehow playing above his head when both Derrick Rose and C.J. Watson were out of the lineup riled up Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau.

Hes no more pleased with the implication that Watsons consistently excellent play in Roses now three-game absence is somehow surprising.

What you cant overlook is what C.J. is doing. C.J. is making us play with a pace and hes doing a great job of running the team. Then, John comes in and its the same thing, high energy, said Thibodeau after the Bulls Friday night laugher over the Cavaliers, when reporters tried to give shooting guard Rip Hamilton his share of the credit for the teams improved offensive flow. We felt C.J. had a great year for us last year, we really did, and he was the one guy who was certainly deserving of more minutes.

Every time that he had gotten extended minutes last year, he played at a very high level, and he played at a high level with the short minutes, he continued. He shot 39 percent from three, ran the team great, he and Derrick showed that they could play together. C.J. is a terrific player and hes a high-character guy. He does a great job with the second unit, hes the leader of the second unit and hes shown that he can lead the first unit. Hes a high-quality player and as I mentioned before the game, regardless of whos out, we feel we have more than enough to win with.


Thibodeau wasnt denying Hamilton his props his Rip is Rip postgame comment, akin to Derrick is Derrick or Lu is Lu, is perhaps his highest praise but he wanted to make sure the soft-spoken Watson was properly feted by the media. Because the normal backup point guard whos looked better than many starters when Rose has been out wont talk himself up.

Its a lot more comfortable this season. Thibs lets me call plays and he just lets me go out there and command the team, and play, really. So, I just go out there and have fun, said Watson, who responded with a little bit, when asked if Thibodeau gives him more freedom on the floor this season. I guess he trusts me a little more.

Whether or not Watson, who scored an efficient 15 points and dropped off seven assists in a head-to-head matchup with touted Cavaliers rookie point guard Kyrie Irving, wants to toot his own horn, his teammates are willing to do it for him.

Youve got to give C.J. a lot of credit. Hes coming off a sprained elbow that popped out of place. Hes been sitting for three weeks, got thrust into the starting lineup and hes been playing phenomenal, said Carlos Boozer, a major beneficiary of Watsons playmaking Friday.

Youve got to give him a lot of credit of stepping in and taking that challenge. Hes doing a great job of scoring the ball for us, hes doing a great job of playing D, hes doing a great job of getting everybody involved.