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Bulls on a roll despite injuries, thanks to chemistry, defense

Shooting guard Rip Hamiltdoesn’t get tired praising Bulls’ team-oriented approach defense. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

Shooting guard Rip Hamilton doesn’t get tired of praising the Bulls’ team-oriented approach on defense. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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TONIGHT

Nets at Bulls

The facts: 7, Ch. 9, 1000-AM.

Updated: February 25, 2012 8:10AM



The Bulls got a well-deserved day off Sunday. Only players who required treatment for injuries were required to report to the Berto Center, which means the parking lot was packed and the training room crowded with strained groins, sprained toes, twisted ankles, sore wrists, aching ring fingers and various other ailments.

Injuries to several key players have forced the Bulls to back up the notion that they’re the deepest team in the league, and they have delivered, proving they’re the epitome of a team by going 4-1 without Derrick Rose. They own the league’s best record despite Rose, Rip Hamilton, C.J. Watson, Taj Gibson, Joakim Noah and John Lucas III missing games because of injury.

“In order to win a championship, that’s what you have to do,” said Hamilton, who won an NBA title with the Pistons in 2004. “Everybody has to want to win. If you look across the league, you see it all the time, people playing for totally different reasons than just trying to win basketball games. That’s key. It’s not just the chemistry on the court, but the chemistry off the court is important.”

That chemistry shows up on offense as the Bulls consistently make the extra pass. The team-oriented culture also has helped them continue to be the league’s best defensive team despite so many injuries. There have been lapses, to be sure. The Bulls didn’t play well defensively in the 95-89 victory Saturday night over the Bobcats at the United Center, for example, at least by their standards.

At other times, they have held opponents to scores more often associated with college or high school basketball. Consider:

◆ The Bulls are allowing an NBA-low 85.3 points per game. The franchise record for opponent scoring in a season is 89.6 in 1997-98. They’re allowing only 74.3 points at the UC. They’re also tops in rebounding differential at plus-6.39. The second-best team is the Lakers at plus-3.59. Opposing teams are shooting .422 against them, which is third-lowest in the league.

“You just don’t have great individual defenders, but you also have great team defense,” Hamilton said. “You know when you go out on the floor that you’re letting your teammate down. That’s what guys in this locker room think when we go out and play. I’ve got to do my job defensively, and I know I’ve got to maintain my positioning. If not, I’m not giving my teammate what he deserves.”

◆ The previous shot-clock-era record for fewest points allowed in a team’s first five home games was 378 by the Pistons in 2002. The Bulls allowed 334 in their first five.

They have held opponents to 75 points or fewer in six of 18 games.

“They rotate very well,” Bobcats coach Paul Silas said. “They know exactly what they want to do on the pick-and-rolls. It’s their rotation that helps them more than anything. Anybody that’s open, there’s always a man there, and somebody is picking up his man. They do contest shots, so it’s very difficult to score on them. They’ve been together for a while, and they know what to do.”

◆ The Bulls set a franchise record with 16 blocked shots while handing the Cavaliers their worst home loss in history Friday night. It was a team effort, too, as Omer Asik had three, Noah, Gibson, Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler had two apiece and Ronnie Brewer, Brian Scalabrine and Mike James each had one.

They’re third in the NBA with 6.28 blocks per game.

“I can’t recall,” coach Tom Thibodeau said when asked if he had ever coached a team that had blocked that many shots in a game. “I’ve been with some pretty good shot-blocking teams, though. But this team is very good at challenging shots. That’s something we want to continue to work on and get better at, but I like the way we’re reacting to the ball right now.”

Thibodeau focuses on what his team needs to improve on more than what it’s doing well. When asked if, all things considered, his team is playing well defensively, he filibusters.

“We could always do better,” he said. “There’s a lot of room for improvement. We want to keep building. We strive for improvement every day. We’re not satisfied.”



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