Before players scattered off to various warmer climes for the All-Star break, the Bulls downed the Nets 92-76 Thursday night to improve to two games above .500 for the first time since Nov. 21.
Such a modest accomplishment may seem like a small detail in a season that began with championship aspirations. But given that Nov. 21 marked the last game the Bulls played before Derrick Rose suffered a season-ending knee injury the next night, it’s not.
The Bulls, suddenly just a game out of third place in the Eastern Conference, have picked themselves up off the mat. With the Pacers and Heat ahead of them, that won’t mean a championship. It will make for a compelling final 30 games and beyond.
“I like our fighting spirit,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “There has been a great will and determination to overcome things. I think we’re starting to believe.”
Carlos Boozer returned from missing three games with a strained left calf to score 15 points with 10 rebounds in 27 minutes, 35 seconds. Joakim Noah added 14 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists in another all-around effort.
And anyone worried what Boozer’s return would do to Taj Gibson’s production – the versatile forward supplied 16 points in 31 minutes.
“It’s really an advantage to have two guys at that position who can give you that type of production, both points and rebounds, on a nightly basis,” general manager Gar Forman had said at Wednesday’s team charity function.
In other words, there’s no power forward controversy in a town well-versed in ones for quarterbacks.
“Carlos will start,” Thibodeau said. “Taj’s minutes are going to be fine. For us to achieve what we want to achieve, Carlos has to play. He has a big role on this team.”