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Bulls’ starters get in flow with hot first quarter against Pacers

Chicago Bulls forward Luol Deng (9) shoots over IndianPacers guard George Hill during first quarter an NBA basketball game Chicago

Chicago Bulls forward Luol Deng (9) shoots over Indiana Pacers guard George Hill during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game in Chicago, Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)

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Updated: December 18, 2013 6:53AM



The eye test let Tom Thibodeau know that his ­starting lineup had finally found its offense.

The coach witnessed it in the second half against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday, on Friday in Toronto, and then in the first quarter against the Indiana Pacers on Saturday night at the United Center.

The numbers over the last three games only reaffirmed it for Thibodeau, highlighted by a 31-point first quarter against the defensive-minded Pacers in their latest showdown.

No big deal?

Considering opposing teams have averaged just 20.1 points against the Pacers in opening quarters, it was a very big deal. The Bulls became the second team to put 30 or more points up in the first 12 minutes against a team that likes to set the tone very early.

For Thibodeau the explanation was simple: His guys are getting healthy.

Joakim Noah missed all but one preseason game with a groin strain, Jimmy Butler battled through a sore left knee, and Derrick Rose has been in and out of practices with a sore neck and then a tweaked hamstring.

“Well, there’s been steady improvement and that goes along with guys practicing and playing together, and so Joakim, his timing is coming around, Jimmy’s timing is coming around,’’ Thibodeau said. “Those guys missed a lot of training camp. I think that’s been a big plus. The second unit has been playing well because they’ve been practicing the whole time.’’

The one starter that has noticeably improved the last week was Noah.

“We’re getting more and more comfortable with each other, keep seeing where guys like the ball, and know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, what plays work with what units, stuff like that,’’ Noah said.

Rising star

The Bulls became real ­acquainted with Pacers standout Paul George in his rookie year, eliminating the division rivals in the 2011 playoffs.

Then again, George wasn’t the MVP candidate that he is today, and even Thibodeau admittedly didn’t see this one coming.

“The one thing you saw was how [George] competed,’’ Thibodeau said. “When you compete that way … I think anyone that said they could foresee him being this type of player. I mean the improvement each year has been incredible. It’s a testament to him, the way he works. When you put the work into the game good things happen.’’

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com



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