Bulls continue winning ways over 76ers


Feb 21

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Who are those guys wearing the Bulls uniforms?

Forget LeBron and Wade. The Bulls have Hakim the Dream and Flip to my Lou.

This is starting to get scary.

But in blowing out the Philadelphia 76ers Saturday 122-90, the Bulls won their fourth straight game in the last five nights, reached three games over .500 at 29-26 for the first time in almost three years and moved to sixth in the Eastern Conference with their 15th win on the last 21.

It also was perhaps as perfect a game as any Bulls team ever has played with a franchise low four turnovers, a 21-0 first half run to effectively end the game, seven players in double figures led by rookie Taj Gibson with 20 points and 13 rebounds, the fourth different scoring leader in the last five games, a dozen dunks and 27 fast break points.

“They were stopping us and getting out and running, playing great team basketball,” marveled Allen Iverson, who had a quiet 13 points. “They were finding the open man and just making the right plays. They didn’t turn the ball over. They did everything right.”

Iverson may not be able to play like it anymore, but he knows great basketball when he sees it. And it was such a good performance that the Bulls got standing ovations from a sellout crowd after the second and third quarters.

“I feel better about our team,” said Derrick Rose, who had 17 points and six assists and seems quite comfortable not having to carry the team. “These are guys who have come in and they know their roles and they’re good guys. I’m really excited about the guys we have here right now.”

You can say, “Yeah, it was the 76ers (who, by the way, beat the Bulls the last time they played),” or, “Yeah, it was the Knicks.” But it wasn’t long ago these same fans were greeting the Bulls with boos and condemnations in losing a 35-point lead to the Kings at home, losing to the then 1-19 Nets at home or losing to the Raptors by 32 at home.

But this new post trading deadline group, more secure and seemingly more savvy, bolted from a 38-35 deficit with 5:19 left in the second quarter to score 21 straight points to take a 58-39 halftime lead.

Rose and Kirk Hinrich opened the third quarter with threes, Hinrich’s to break Ben Gordon’s franchise record for threes made, and the Bulls never led by fewer than 16 and spent the fourth quarter toying with a 30-point margin.

“We’re confident and we’re playing really good basketball,” said Rose. “We’re really doing a good job of communicating in practice and the new guys have come in and given us more depth.”

Yes, the new guys.

The headline of last week’s trades of John Salmons and Tyrus Thomas was the Bulls’ ability to assure enough room under the salary cap to make an offer to a top free agent like LeBron James, Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade.

But Hakim Warrick and Flip Murray have fit in seamlessly with Murray scoring 12 Saturday and Warrick with 15 points and nine rebounds, and giving notice of an exciting night to come with a facial dunk over Thaddeus Young to tie the game at 22.

“That got me going,” said Warrick.

That came just after Joakim Noah’s surprise appearance after sitting out seven games with plantar fasciitis. Noah said he felt better with some new orthotics and Del Negro decided to give him a look off the bench. Noah played just under seven minutes, all in the first half, and finished with one point, two rebounds and a two handed breakaway dunk off the back rim that had the Bulls bench covering the faces with towels to avoid laughing out loud.

“I’m happy with the win,” said Noah. “I’m not happy with the missed dunk, but I guess that happens. Those guys on the bench were killing me all game. I think I was just so excited. I guess I should have just laid it up. I feel good right now. I really feel no pain and I feel really good that we’re playing such good basketball right now. I just want to get out there and help. We’re playing really well as a team. We’re rebounding the ball and moving without the ball and we’re going to be a tough team to beat at the end of the season.”

Noah was so flummoxed about the miss he asked for the ball at the end of the first quarter and dunked it into the 76ers basket, apparently to see if he still could.

The Bulls led 25-23 after the first quarter and were going back and forth with the 76ers until Brad Miller, who was lively and renewed again with 15 points and 10 rebounds, missed twice, grabbing his own rebound and scoring the third time. One time 76ers star Moses Malone was known for such stat producing possessions. I guess it’s common among great centers.

The 76ers, a fairly out of control bunch with no floor leadership without Andre Miller, began hoisting up long jumpers, most early in the shot clock, and the Bulls began taking the rebound and running away with them.

“We took a lot of jump shots and they did a good job of getting rebounds and pushing the fast break,” noticed Andre Iguodala, who at least knew but didn’t do much about it.

Luol Deng, who shot poorly but again got into traffic and got 10 more free throws, his third straight game in double figure attempts, ran out and was fouled. Hinrich, shooting the ball the best he has in two seasons and scoring 17, hit a 20 footer. Gibson spun off a Deng handoff and went up strong as he now almost always does, and Miller outran the defense for a score. Then Rose scored on a fast break, Miller suckered the defense into fouls on consecutive possessions and Murray hit a three from the deep left corner. Young stopped the 21-0 run with a drive and a pair of free throws, but Rose simply blew through the 76ers flailing hands for a layup to send the Bulls into halftime ahead by 19.

“This has been a tough stretch with four games in five nights, but we’re playing really well,” said Hinrich. “If we play like that, we’re going to be a tough team to beat.”

As for his record, it did take Hinrich a bit longer to get there, and it was just a few months ago you were wincing when he shot threes. But he’s 45 percent on threes the last six games.

“I wasn’t going to go out there and just fire them up,” said Hinrich. “But it was nice to knock some out tonight. I don’t feel like I shoot a lot of threes. I just take them when it’s available.”

The 76ers made a half hearted run, led by Iguodala with 23 points, in the third. But Warrick continued to be tough on the boards, Murray clever in working inside out with Warrick and Gibson with some big time rebounds and powerful follows.

Gibson isn’t going to be rookie of the year. But he is quietly leads all rookie in double/doubles, is first among rookies in rebounding and second in blocks and he may be the surprise rookie of the year, a lightly regarded low first rounder who has been a rock on offense and defense, has played through plantar fasciitis and already is one of the most fundamental defenders at his position.

“He works,” said Del Negro. “He’s such a good kid. He is very coachable. He wants to learn and he is always working. I like some of the passes that he and Hakim made to each other. They worked well against the zone. Taj had great activity on the defensive end and offensively he was moving around the basket. He likes to go with that lefty hook and he was converting it.”

And Warrick and Murray have come in and despite this notion of having to adjust, their experience and basketball savvy has enabled them to play confidently and loose and already communicate openly on the floor and even direct other players in help and switch situations.

“Hakim and Flip are here to play minutes. That’s why we brought them in,” said Del Negro. “We lost a couple of guys who played major minutes. Hakim and Flip are going to take those minutes. They are veteran guys. With Hakim you can throw it to him down on the post. He made a couple of really nice passes tonight. With his length and athleticism he can make up for a lot of mistakes. If you play the game the right way and unselfishly, the game becomes a lot more fun and easier.”

It got crazy, as Rose might say, when Warrick in one motion made an over the shoulder behind his head touch pass to Gibson for a slam dunk as the Bulls extended their lead to 24 early in the fourth quarter.

“I am not surprised at their cohesiveness,” said 76ers coach Eddie Jordan. “Derrick Rose has a lot to do with it with his play. Hakim took control with his post up moves.”

Rose is one of four NBA players along with James, Wade and Chris Paul averaging at least 19.5 points, 5.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds. Hinrich is setting three point shooting records. Deng is averaging almost 10 free throws per game the last seven games. Gibson is averaging doubles figures in rebounds the last six games. Miller is averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds the last three games. The new guys both are averaging in doubles figures scoring. The opposing coach is marveling at power forward post ups. Heck, even James Johnson is dunking the ball with ferocity and purpose, though I wish he didn’t advertise it so much in so called garbage time at the end with a reverse jam and stare to earn a taunting technical foul.

But heck, when you can walk the walk and all that. The Bulls are backing it up. Yes, those guys.

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