Bulls blow past hapless Bobcats
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The competition shifted dramatically Friday night from the defending NBA champion Heat to the Bobcats, currently the league's worst team.
The time zone changed as well, pushing past 3 a.m. Friday when the Bulls arrived in their local hotel rooms to finish their back-to-back.
But one thing from the Bulls' 105-75 blowout victory looked strikingly familiar to veterans from the teams that led the league in regular-season victories the last two seasons.
"Our mindset reminded me how we were the last 2 years," Taj Gibson said. "Whenever we got a loss, we just bounced back. We played with an edge."
The Bobcats' defense, such as it is, never will be confused with the Heat's. But this team – somehow – does own a New Year's Eve victory over the Bulls at the United Center.
And thus, the Bulls were responding in multiple ways, placing eight scorers in double figures while registering a season-high 37 assists on their 42 field goals. That they committed just six turnovers one night after coughing up a season-high 27 also stood out.
"We had the right mindset," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "The ball movement was very good. The screening and cutting was good. We were disappointed in the way we played [Thursday] night. We felt we beat ourselves. We wanted to correct that. And we responded."
Gibson's team-high 17 points came in just 20 minutes, 40 seconds. Joakim Noah shook off tweaking the plantar fasciitis in his right foot against the Heat for 10 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and three blocks.
"There are always going to be tweaks and bumps and bruises along the way," Noah said of his condition. "Once you're in the game, adrenalin kicks in and I don't really think about it."
The Bulls led by 21 in the first half and shot 50.6 percent, placing all five starters in double figures even though most of them played limited minutes. Thibodeau had pointed out the Bulls' offensive stagnation against the Heat during a lengthy afternoon film session here.
"We were aggressive and that's the mindset we need the rest of the season," Gibson said. "Guys know what they have to do. It's going to take a whole collective team effort until Derrick [Rose] comes back, whenever that is."
And now the competition swings back dramatically the other way again. The Bulls travel to Oklahoma City for an offday Saturday and late showdown Sunday night. The Thunder are 24-4 at home.
"They're a lot more than Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook," Thibodeau said. "That's a great team. They were in the NBA Finals last year and are terrific again this year. They have a lot of different weapons. They have size and quickness. We're going to have to be ready."
The Thunder dismantled the Bulls 92-78 in their lone visit to Oklahoma City last season. The Bulls never led and the game wasn't even that close.
"You can't ever forget about stuff like that," Gibson said. "We went in lackadaisical. They jumped on us from the beginning."
Here's guessing that game might sneak its way into Thibodeau's film session Saturday.