- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- Even Luol Deng wasn't sure how his right hamstring would respond after he missed the past five games because of injury -- but he liked the results Monday night. The All-Star forward played 31 minutes in his return, scoring 10 points and pulling down four rebounds.
"It felt great," Deng said. "It felt great. Honestly, I was a little worried. I haven't gone full speed like that. With the game I was worried a little bit about the change of speed. So I'm happy that I was able to not have any setbacks or any problems ... It felt a little tight but it didn't feel like it felt before I (injured) it last time or how it felt when I first (injured) it in Toronto. It was definitely a different feeling."
Deng's teammates were happy to have him back.
"It's great," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "We need our team healthy to get to where we want to get to. It's good to have Lu back and we just got to keep it up."
New bench continues to jell: The Bulls bench outscored the Bobcats bench 45-29 -- a stat lost on no one in the Bulls locker room. Slowly but surely, the new bench has rounded into form over the past couple months.
"It's huge," Noah said. "And I think that to get to where we want to get to we need everybody. It's not about starters or bench (players), it's us as a team. I think that a lot of guys have stepped up throughout this year and that's the strength of this team is any given night Nate (Robinson) can really go off, Marco (Belinelli), Rip (Hamilton), Jimmy (Butler), everybody, Taj (Gibson). Everybody has a role and we just feel like we can even play better."
That sentiment was echoed throughout the locker room.
"Our chemistry with our second group now is awesome," Bulls forward Carlos Boozer said. "They come in the game (with) great confidence, making big plays, important plays, and I think our whole group is growing."
"When anyone is called upon he is expected to do the job," Thibodeau said. "They were small and I like Jimmy's quickness. Whether it's Jimmy or Nate filling in for extended minutes or Marco for extended minutes, we have a lot of confidence that they can get the job done."