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No secret: Rose leading Bulls’ turnaround with solid ‘D’

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

When the Bulls left Portland a week ago in the middle of their five-game, 11-day road trip, they were a team searching for the defensive edge that has fueled their surprisingly strong play this season. They had dropped back-to-back games to the Golden State Warriors and the Trail Blazers, and their defense in those games wasn’t up to the standard they had established.

As coach Tom Thibodeau put it, they weren’t going to get back to winning until they got back to playing solid defense.

And that’s precisely what the Bulls did in wins over the Utah Jazz and New Orleans Hornets to finish the trip with a 3-2 record. Their defensive system is built on teamwork, with five players meshing as one, and the steady leader of the effort in both games was point guard Derrick Rose.

In matchups with All-Stars Deron Williams of the Jazz and Chris Paul of the Hornets, Rose kept solid pressure on the ball throughout and didn’t allow either player to get in an offensive groove. He didn’t make many spectacular defensive plays but simply made sure he stayed in front of Williams and Paul as much as he could to force them to take contested shots.

It’s evidence of how far Rose has come this season defensively — and why the Bulls are so much better.

Whether coincidence or not, Rose’s two excellent defensive games came after he was burned by Andre Miller for 27 points (7-for-11 shooting) and 11 assists in Portland and criticized by the Blazers’ Nicolas Batum for not being a good defender.

Rose laughed off the comment at the time — and Batum quickly backed off, saying his words were misconstrued — but Rose wasn’t in a joking mood after Saturday’s 97-88 win in New Orleans, when he was reminded his solid defensive games came after getting torched (on the court and verbally) in Portland.

‘‘I’m not even paying attention to what whatcha-call-it said,’’ Rose said. ‘‘I know that our defense, we over-help on everything, so if one guy is out of place, our whole defense is out of place. We just have been getting on the right page right now, getting in the right rhythm. If a guy is driving, we’re stepping in front taking charges or trying to go for the block.’’

That’s true — but it’s also true that the Bulls’ defense wouldn’t be very good regardless of what anyone else was doing if a point guard such as Williams or Paul was able to get past Rose consistently. With so many accomplished point guards in the NBA, on-the-ball defense is crucial.

‘‘For Derrick, I don’t think he looks at it as him against Chris Paul,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘He looks at it as the Bulls against the Hornets. He’s more concerned with us getting the win, and I think he recognizes that every night he’s gonna be faced with a tough challenge. I think he prepares himself extremely well.

‘‘Chris Paul, he’s one of the best in the league, so you’re gonna be up against it, and you better be ready. That’s the one thing he’s done all year — he’s prepared himself extremely well for each opponent.’’

Only Rose knows if Batum or Miller motivated him, but he was pleased with his defense against Paul, who had just 15 points (3-for-10 shooting).

‘‘I was playing ‘D,’  ” Rose said. ‘‘I think that I contested all his shots. I just tried to make him work for it, and we came out with this win.’’

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