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Bulls on easy streak after easy win over Nuggets

Denver Nuggets center J.J. Hicks(7) blocks shot Chicago Bulls forward Carlos Boozer as Randy Foye (4) also defends during first

Denver Nuggets center J.J. Hickson (7) blocks the shot of Chicago Bulls forward Carlos Boozer as Randy Foye (4) also defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

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Updated: February 21, 2014 11:26PM

This is more than just a five-game winning streak for the Bulls.

It’s an awakening.

An offense that had been last in the league at 92.3 points per game is averaging 99 points during the streak. A defense that had been inconsistent is holding opponents to 85.6 points per game since the road victory Feb. 9 against the Los Angeles Lakers.

After all the doom and gloom that accompanied the team since the season-ending injury to Derrick Rose and the trade of Luol Deng, the Bulls are playing their best basketball of the season, as evidenced by their 117-89 victory Friday against the Denver Nuggets at the United Center.

Forward Taj Gibson says they have been employing a simple formula: Coach Tom Thibodeau leads; they all follow.

“Thibs is just driving the practice,’’ Gibson said. “Like the guys say, we’re just going to follow what he puts up on the board. We’re going to live with the shots that Thibs tells us to live with, but we’re going to give 110 percent on defense every night.’’

Nuggets coach Brian Shaw wished his players would do the same.

The Bulls (29-25) looked good, especially when they scored a season-high 69 points in the first half, but Shaw was dissatisfied with the Nuggets (25-29) and called out his players afterward.

“As a coach and as a coaching staff, it’s our job to find five players who want to play and want to have some pride, not decide night-to-night, ‘I’m going to play this game’ or ‘I’m not going to play this game,’ ’’ Shaw said. “It felt like [Friday] we had some guys who just decided they weren’t going to play. They weren’t going to put forth any effort to get the job done. It’s unfortunate.

“This is a nationally televised game, and we’re professionals. As a staff, we have to beg guys to give effort when we play. I told our team that I wish paychecks were predicated on night-to-night performance, so if you play like a star on a given night, you get paid like a star. If you play like an uninspired player, then either you don’t get paid or you get paid like an uninspired player.

“We act like a big, bad wolf against the Milwaukee Bucks [on Thursday], then we come in tonight, nationally televised game against the Bulls, and we tuck our tails and hide.’’

But it wasn’t all smiles and fun for the Bulls. They lost Jimmy Butler in the first quarter with a rib contusion, and he’s questionable for the road game Sunday against the Miami Heat. That game will be a true measuring stick.

“I always look forward to going down there,’’ center Joakim Noah said.

Noah was then asked about LeBron James being questionable for the game with a broken nose.

“We hope his nose is OK,’’ Noah said in a playful manner.

“They’re the back-to-back champions. You want to play against the best just to measure yourself. We feel like we can compete against them.’’


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