As Paul George and Darren Collison swarm to Derrick Rose, the Bulls point guard passes the ball. Rose struggled in the first half, shooting 1-for-9, but he picked up the pace in the decisive third quarter. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau can’t see any further than the next game. But just about everybody else sees each game — regardless of the opponent — in a much broader context: Are the Bulls good enough to beat the Heat in a seven-game playoff series?
Even in a 92-72 victory against the Indiana Pacers on Monday night at the United Center, the Bulls (32-8) might have taken a step backward in that cause, because one of the key elements to overtaking the Heat is not coming to fruition — Richard Hamilton can’t stay healthy.
Derrick Rose (13 points, 9 assists) and Luol Deng (20 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists) combined for five three-pointers in the third quarter as the Bulls rallied in the second half to beat the Pacers and avenge one of their two home losses Monday night.
Though the Bulls are on a roll with seven consecutive victories, the loss of Hamilton can’t be ignored. The 6-7 shooting guard suffered a shoulder injury after banging into Pacers guard Paul George in the first minute of the game, left with 10:38 to go in the first quarter and did not return.
Hamilton, who has missed 23 of the Bulls’ first 39 games, has yet to play in more than five consecutive games without missing time because of an injury. Monday night’s game was his fifth consecutive start after missing 13 straight with leg and hip injuries — and he had played 20 minutes or fewer in each of those.
Thibodeau had hoped that Hamilton soon would be able to play more than one shift per half.
‘‘He’s feeling great, which is the encouraging thing,’’ Thibodeau said before the game. ‘‘He hasn’t had any problems. We’ll play it by ear and see where’’
Hamilton’s absence didn’t make a difference Monday night. In fact, Ronnie Brewer, replacing Hamilton, helped spark the third-quarter flurry that turned a 47-44 Pacers lead into a 75-56 Bulls’ rout.
Brewer hit a 21-footer to give the Bulls a 48-47 lead, scored inside off a feed from Rose for a 50-47 before Rose and Deng took matters into their own hands. Rose hit three three-pointers and Deng added two from behind the arc to complete a 30-9 run that gave the Bulls a 72-54 lead with 1:59 left in the quarter.
Rose, who scored two points on 1-for-9 shooting in the first half, had five assists and 11 points in the quarter, accounting for 22 of the Bulls’ first 28 points in the period.
Brewer scored 12 on 6-for-10 shooting, with seven rebounds in place of Hamilton and was named the Bulls’ ‘‘Player of the Game.’’ The Bulls showed off their depth when Rose picked up his second foul with 1:38 left in the first quarter. With C.J. Watson out with a sprained ankle, John Lucas III came off the bench and scored nine points on 4-for-5 shooting in the first half.
That’s why Pacers coach Frank Vogel called the Bulls the best team in the NBA.
‘‘You could call Oklahoma City, Miami and Chicago the best in the league,’’ Vogel said. ‘‘I don’t think it’s clear who is at the top. But we look at [the Bulls] as the best and that’s where we want to be.’’