Bulls have yet to reach full potential

February, 17, 2011
2/17/11
11:43
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- The scariest part for the rest of the NBA isn't that the Chicago Bulls knocked off the league leading San Antonio Spurs Thursday night in impressive fashion. It's not that Derrick Rose had another amazing performance racking up 42 points and eight assists on a Spurs defense that isn't used to seeing any one player dominate a game like that. It's not even that the Bulls defense, under the stewardship of Tom Thibodeau, came to life once again in the second half and helped seal up a win for a Bulls team that is now 22 games over .500.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Rose
Dennis Wierzbicki/US PresswireWhen Joakim Noah returns, Derrick Rose will finally be able to run the floor with both the Bulls' All-Star caliber big men.
The single scariest part of Thursday night's game is that the Bulls beat the best team in the league without having their whole team intact. Again.

They won without Joakim Noah.

Up to this point in the season, the Bulls have yet to play a game when all of their key contributors have been healthy. Carlos Boozer missed the first month of the season because of a broken right hand, but when he finally returned, Noah was playing with just one healthy hand of his own. The 25 year-old center had already torn a ligament in his right thumb late in November, and he wasn't playing close to 100 percent.

Now everything is about to change.

After the All-Star break, the Bulls will finally be able to see how good they can truly be. It's a moment that Rose and his teammates have been waiting for all season long.

"We've got a lot of confidence right now," Rose said. "Knowing that we can beat some of the best teams in the NBA. But we just got to keep it going. Where when we come back we've got to stay focused. We've got to work even harder because we're going to have a couple days off. People are going to let their body relax. But we've still got a goal and that's to try to win a championship."

What does it say about the Bulls that they have been so successful without having Noah in the fold for the past two months?

"That we're a good team," Rose said. "But when he comes back I know that everybody's going to be excited. I know that he's going to be excited and it should be very hard for people to go in the hole. Fast breaks are going to be up. We're not a fast break team like that right now because of Kurt. Kurt is kind of older, so we've got to walk the ball up some, but when Jo comes back he's going to speed the game up. And give us a lot of energy out there."

But how much better can they be? That's the great unknown. Nobody is quite sure what kind of jolt Noah's presence will give the Bulls, not even the players. They know they'll be better defensively and they know they be able to run a little more, but does that make them a legitimate title contender?

Luol Deng isn't quite sure, but he definitely wants to find out.

"We'll see," he said. "We'll see when we get back. One thing we've done well is play [well] when [Boozer and Noah] went down. But we should be a better team with both of them back. So it's something that we're going to work on and it might take a little while to [get to] where we want to get to as a team but I'm pretty confident we're going to work hard and be a better team when Jo comes back. And he's been working so hard with the injury that he had. He's just been working hard every day and I know he's going to come in ready."

So are the Bulls. Rose mentioned before Thursday's contest that he still feels like his team is flying under the radar. With Noah expected to come back Wednesday night, that might be a little more difficult, but Rose hopes that he and his teammates still have a few more doubters that they can prove wrong over the final two months of the regular season.

"I hope so," Rose said. "As long as we keep winning we don't have anything to complain about or anything. Our record speaks for itself."

Yes, it does. And with Noah back, there's little doubt that record is going to end up being even more impressive than it is right now.


Nick Friedell | email

Chicago Bulls beat reporter
Nick Friedell is the Chicago Bulls beat reporter for ESPN Chicago. Friedell is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and joined ESPNChicago.com for its launch in April 2009.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Derrick Rose
PTS AST STL MIN
15.9 4.3 0.5 31.1
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Noah 11.3
AssistsJ. Noah 5.4
StealsJ. Butler 1.9
BlocksJ. Noah 1.5