Bulls getting an A in chemistry


Jan 25

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This is sort of the way it sounded to me late Monday night long after just about everyone had cleared from the Bulls locker room. Luol Deng, with typically deliberate dresser Joakim Noah out, is usually last to leave after a long soak, soak of the year, as it were, of his feet, the ones averaging the fourth most minutes per game in the NBA. Carlos Boozer these days is running late as well as he took his post game treatment for his sprained ankle.

“Don-ga-lever,” Boozer shouted at Deng.

“Ka-waji,” Deng shouted back, laughing.

“Ka-waji night,” Boozer responded with a laugh.

The meaning wasn’t important, or so I was assured, though Boozer said he wasn’t telling, anyway. It was an inside joke of sorts, just some words they like to playfully toss back and forth. Kind of secret clubhouse stuff among kids, and these Bulls seem to be enjoying themselves like children at recess.

“That’s between me and him,” Boozer said as Deng smiled, waved and left.

“That’s a good example,” Boozer offered to a few reporters, his voice lowering a bit. “Lu didn’t have a lot of points, not one of his best nights offensively (nine points on three of eight shooting, one of five on threes). But look how happy he is because we won.

“You don’t see that on a lot of teams,” said Boozer. “I’ve been on teams before, we win and a guy did not get his average and he’s sulking. We don’t have that here. We’ve got guys here who are just happy to win. Look at OG (Kurt Thomas, Old Guy, which is my explanation. Boozer, by the way, did add he believes it’s inappropriate for a man to be called Big Sexy, as Thomas is on the TV broadcasts) .

“He’s 56 years old and just had 20-something points and everyone is happy for him,” Boozer went on. “So you’ve also got to give (John) Paxson, (Gar) Forman and coach Thibs (Thibodeau) credit because they are the ones who brought us all here.”

Yes, the state of this union is strong.

The question now is whether this is enough. That with the return of Joakim Noah–perhaps in less than a month as Noah suggested while sitting in on the Comcast broadcast Monday night as he was having the pin removed from his injured thumb Tuesday–whether this Bulls team can, improbably, make a run at least for the Eastern Conference title. Suddenly Boston and Miami and Orlando, the latter the Bulls next opponent Friday, don’t look all that formidable.

As Ibsen said, The minority is 10 years ahead of the majority.

Maybe others saw more than we did.

But do you risk disturbing what the Bulls have put together and is growing so well, certainly as Boozer sees it.

The Bulls are 31-14, their best start, and just by one game, since their last championship season in 1998. Derrick Rose is regarded as perhaps the front runner for league MVP and Thibodeau is a top candidate for Coach of the Year. Rose is expected to be named an All Star starter Thursday, and Boozer and Deng will get consideration for being added as a reserve.

It’s a group of players who blend easily, have no one who causes a problem and, if anything, is more weakness as no one even gets technical fouls. They play and don’t complain. They act professionally. Guys are on time, get to the arena early, no one, as in previous seasons, on the second bus to the arena, and have this easy, casual, light hearted rapport that is evident in the locker room. I’ve never seen so many players fist bumping the security guards and ball boys.

The team leads the league in overall defense, which most will agree is predicated on exceptional teamwork, especially for a team like the Bulls without a previous all-league defender.

“That’s impressive,” said Deng, who has been the closest to a star defender, though Rose is likely to eventually assume that role. “It says a lot about the way we play defense as a group. We don’t have one guy who was named to the all defensive team and all that. But we trust one each other. It’s not (fully) there yet, but it’s getting so much better. You do what you are supposed to do and guys will cover up for you. Our goal is to be on top with our defense. Every (day) we talk at practice about it. We’re taking pride in it and it’s something we want.”

And, at least to Boozer, if there is someone among the Bulls’ defensive players who deserves individual praise it is Deng.

“I think Luol should be on one of those first, second… all defense teams,” said Boozer. “He’s been amazing all season. He’s been our unsung hero. People don’t talk about him. People talk about other guys on the team. Lu has been consistent. I look at the stat sheet and he’s (always) playing 40 minutes. He should be getting a lot more credit. You (media) guys should write about him being on those all defense teams because he’s played great on both sides of the ball. But his defense is what has been impressive to me.”

And it has made a difference.

“I really worked hard and am committed,” said Deng, long much maligned around the community. “Whenever someone is hot I go over to coach and try to take that responsibility. In terms of recognition, as long as the coaching staff and my teammates are happy with the job I’m doing I really don’t care about guys out there and what they are writing.”

What they are starting to write is maybe you have to take this Bulls team more seriously, and maybe this greater than the sum of its parts thing is working and maybe you don’t want to damage that evanescent thing known as chemistry that is so elusive and even more difficult to put back together.

“Honestly, I believe in our team,” said Boozer. “I don’t know the record or what the standing should be. I’ve thought no matter who was out there we could compete with guys like Taj (Gibson) and Kurt (Thomas) stepping up when guys were out.

“Jo’s (Noah) a monster, and we’re doing this without him,” noted Boozer. “Imagine when we get Jo back. He’s our anchor. No matter what happens, he’s back there to block shots, make people adjust shots. He could be leading the league in blocked shots (and rebounds) now. I can’t wait to get him back.”

So that really for the first time all season the Bulls are able to play with the lineup they envisioned in the summer. And if they can do this well now, then can they really improve with what and who they have? The tests continue Friday with the Magic, one of the teams projected to finish well ahead of the Bulls that are, instead, looking up at the Bulls. Is this Bulls run the real thing? It’s getting more difficult to diminish.

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