- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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So, which side of the fence do you fall on when it comes to the new Chicago Bulls?
Do you believe they're simply beating bad teams? That's exactly what they did on Saturday night with a 122-90 drubbing of the Philadelphia 76ers for their fourth win in a row.
Or, do you believe that by subtracting John Salmons and Tyrus Thomas and adding Hakim Warrick and Flip Murray that the Bulls have now matured to a point where their recent solid play is more than just a mirage?
No matter what you think right now, one thing is indisputable at the moment:
The Bulls are playing better team basketball than they have all season.
They're sharing the ball, as evidenced by the 26 assists and repeated easy dunks that against the Sixers. And they seem to enjoy playing with one another -- something that didn't always appear to be the case in the first few months of the season.
"Right now, our confidence is so high," Bulls point guard Derrick Rose said. "And we're pushing the ball, getting rebounds. If we don't have it, people are getting wide open and making open shots. That's what's making us win."
Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro was concise in his summation of Saturday's win:
"I thought our movement of the basketball was as good as it's been," he said.
How did this happen, though? There's no doubt that the New York Knicks, Minnesota Timberwolves and Sixers (the Bulls' last three opponents) are awful, but the better answer in the short term is that Warrick and Murray have allowed the team to space the floor even more and are finding ways to complement their new teammates -- especially Warrick. The former Syracuse star had another solid game, scoring 15 points and grabbing nine rebounds. Even Warrick seems a little surprised at how well the team is playing together so quickly.
"It really felt like we've been together since preseason," he said. "Just the way the ball's been moving. The new guys have come in just ready to play and the old guys have really just welcomed us new guys in and whenever we make a mistake or we're in the wrong spot, they make sure to point us and get us in the right spot and get the play right."
Rose & Co. seem to really enjoy playing with their newest teammates.
"That tells you something about them," Rose said of Warrick and Murray. "They're just ballplayers. You can tell they can fit in anywhere. Especially this system where they get open and do what they're supposed to do. And I guess it helped that they've been in the league for a couple of years."
There's no telling if the Bulls will be able to keep up their recent hot play once they start facing better competition, but the team definitely has the look of a squad that is about to take off and continue to make a solid push down the stretch.
"If we play like that, we're going to be a tough team to beat," Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich said. "This has been a tough stretch with four games in five nights, but we're playing really well."
When you win four games in five nights in the NBA, it's an impressive feat ... no matter who you play. The fact that the Bulls won again on Saturday night should give the team and its fans even more confidence that better days are ahead. Maybe even sooner than most expected.
Hinrich sets three-point mark: Kirk Hinrich doesn't really like talking about himself, but the subject was unavoidable after Saturday's game considering that he has now made more three-pointers than anyone else in franchise history. Hinrich's third quarter trey gave him the overall mark, passing Ben Gordon.
"My shot was feeling good tonight, I was able to knock some down," he said. "But, really, I think [the record] is just a tribute to me being here so long. I don't feel like I shoot a lot of threes. I just try to take them when they're available. And that's the result of the record I think ... this is my seventh year."
Noah feels OK: Joakim Noah played just seven minutes on Saturday night, but the fact that he was out there at all is a good sign for the Bulls. The young center had missed the last seven games due to plantar fasciitis. The only thing Noah did wrong was miss a wide open breakaway dunk.
"I'm happy to be back out there," he said. "I'm not happy about that missed dunk. But, hey, I guess it happens."
Noah isn't going to hear the end of that for a long time from his teammates.
"Oh my God," he said with a smile. "They've been killing me through the whole game."
The last word: Taj Gibson, who had another solid game, with 20 points and 13 rebounds, on the team's confidence level: "It's great. [We've] got a great group of guys. Everybody is just real basketball-oriented. We're just having fun with it. Like Vinny said, just get better every day. Move the ball and good things will happen."
2dMatt Walks, ESPN.com
2dJason McCallum, ESPN Stats & Info