Bulls’ frontcourt starting to assert itself
BY JOE COWLEY firstname.lastname@example.org January 5, 2013 6:27PM
Carlos Boozer scored 58 points and grabbed 23 rebounds in the Bulls’ two victories in Florida. | Getty Images
Updated: February 7, 2013 6:47AM
MIAMI — There was a blueprint in place.
Carlos Boozer yelling out his usual ‘‘Gimme that [bleep]!’’ on
every ball to come off a rim. Taj
Gibson’s primal scream after pinning the ball to the glass for a blocked shot. Joakim Noah sending a perfect bounce pass through a traffic-filled lane to a cutting teammate. Luol Deng putting up 20 points — 20 very quiet points.
This is what it was supposed to look like all along. There had been glimpses since training camp, a few signs here and there that Deng and Noah weren’t going to be the Bulls’ only pillars of consistency up front.
Finally, it appears the entire package has arrived. Now the question is, can the Bulls’ frontcourt have some staying power?
‘‘As long as we stay hungry, stay driven, stay humble, I think that the sky is the limit,’’ Noah said. ‘‘We’ve just got to play for the right reasons, play for each other. If we play for each other, the sky is the limit. We know that our best basketball is going to come when Derrick [Rose] comes back, as well. So it’s good [bleep], man; it’s good [bleep].’’
It’s even better coming off an impressive road victory Friday against the reigning NBA champion Miami Heat. And the Bulls didn’t just beat the Heat, they broke their will, thanks in large part to a 48-28 rebounding advantage.
That tells the story of the box score but not of the Bulls’ psyche. The Bulls left their two-game tour of Florida with the belief they could have one of the better frontcourts in the Eastern Conference. And the player that led the way was Boozer.
In the Bulls’ victory Wednesday against the Orlando Magic, Boozer
scored a season-high 31 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Against the Heat, he had 27 points and 12
rebounds. He also went to the floor for loose balls twice and came up with both.
‘‘He’s been playing very well on both ends,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said.
Not that Boozer hasn’t occasionally been the impact player he’s paid to be this season, but he hasn’t done it enough. For every stretch like the one he had against the Magic and Heat, there has been a 3-for-11 in a blowout loss to the Houston Rockets and a 1-for-6 showing against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Noah said he wants to face the Heat in the playoffs, and he thinks the Bulls have the formula to win such a series. It starts with Boozer.
‘‘He was huge for us,’’ Noah said. ‘‘He can score so well around the basket, and I don’t know if that small ball [the Heat plays] is going to work against us. Not with a guy like Carlos Boozer in the game.’’
Then there’s Gibson, who entered the season as the lone returnee from the ‘‘Bench Mob’’ and sometimes disappeared after being rewarded with a four-year, $38 million extension. Gibson battled some nagging injuries early but had been starting to look like the high-energy player the Bulls had paid for during the last few weeks.
His breakout came with 21 points and 11 rebounds Wednesday against the Magic. He kept that intensity going with nine rebounds in 17 minutes against the Heat.
‘‘Yeah, we’re just getting healthy right now, and that’s the main thing,’’ Gibson said of the frontcourt finally coming together. ‘‘We had so many guys that were banged up with injuries. Like Thibs has been stressing, we need to get back on our grind as far as rebounding the ball.
‘‘We understand that we have to do a job, especially me. I have to step up, new contract, and just try and do what I can.’’
The Bulls hope it all will be worth the wait.