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Sunday, February 2, 2014
Bulls lose their edge in New Orleans

By Nick Friedell

NEW ORLEANS -- Joakim Noah busted up his chin in the second half of the Chicago Bulls' uninspiring loss the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday night. Blood came spurting out after a hard fall to the court, and he came back into the game a few moments later wearing a tape job that looked similar to a football chin strap. Noah's chin had to be hurting as he walked to his locker and threw on a blood-stained white T-shirt and a gray hoodie, but it wasn't feeling nearly as bad as his battered team's pride. A few nights after one of their best wins of the season, against the San Antonio Spurs, Noah and the Bulls looked flat against a below-average Pelicans squad.

"Our edge wasn't as good as it was in the San Antonio game, that's for sure," Noah said. "We didn't play well. We didn't hit shots, we didn't play as well as we wanted to defensively. The team with the better edge in this league has a huge advantage. Today, it was them. We have to play with a great edge to be competitive, so we have to do a better job with that."

Anthony Davis, Joakim Noah
Anthony Davis was simply too much for the Bulls on offense, and solid on defense, too.
The Bulls also must do a better job of carrying out their game plan. Coach Tom Thibodeau knew that if Anthony Davis got going, his Chicago team would be in trouble. Well, Davis got going -- on both ends of the floor -- and the Bulls never found the answer. They couldn't find a way around him at the rim, and they struggled to contain him offensively. It was a toxic combo for a team that continues to have problems scoring.

"I thought he let the game come to him," Bulls forward Taj Gibson said of Davis. "I thought he took his shots at the right time. His teammates dished it to him a lot, especially on the drive-and-kick side … Whenever it's drive-and-kick, it's tough. And, plus, their shot-blocking, he runs the floor real well like a deer, so I thought he played extremely well."

That's an understatement. Davis went off for 24 points, 8 rebounds, 6 blocks, 3 assists and 3 steals. The Chicago native knew he had family and friends watching at home, but he shrugged off the notion that it meant more to have a big game against his hometown Bulls. He also shrugged off the feeling that he had a point to make after being left off the Western Conference All-Star team on Thursday. After watching him against the Bulls, it's hard to believe that both factors didn't have something to do with his dominant performance.

"I'm not trying to prove anything," Davis said. "Everybody knows what I can do and what I'm capable of. I'm just trying to go out there and do what we did tonight -- get wins against a great Bulls team. They play hard, competitive, a great defensive team, and we just made shots tonight and played defense. My teammates were doing a great job in places where I can score and go to work. I'm not trying to prove anything. It is what it is."

What it is now for the Bulls is that they face an interesting back-to-back set early next week against the Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns -- two teams that can move it up and down the floor. If the Bulls want to bounce back on the West Coast portion of this long road swing, they must do what they didn't Saturday night: set a tempo to their style and stick to it throughout the game. They allowed the Pelicans to dominate in the paint, and it showed.

"We're disappointed," Thibodeau said. "We're capable of playing a lot better than we did. On the road, and being short-handed, we can never lose sight of how hard we have to play. There's a fine line. We were reacting to them, and when you do that, you're at a disadvantage."