CHICAGO -- Where have you been, Carlos Boozer?
That's what Chicago Bulls fans have to be asking themselves after watching Boozer average 27 points and 11.3 rebounds over his last three games.
Last week, with Derrick Rose out of the lineup and Joakim Noah battling the flu, Boozer stepped up and became the go-to offensive weapon for the Bulls on their Florida trip. He did it again Monday night at the United Center as the Bulls hit a season high for points in a 118-92 thrashing of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In the span of two weeks, Boozer has given Tom Thibodeau a glimpse of the player he thought he was getting two and a half years ago during the 2010 summer of free agency. Boozer has been solid offensively -- but what is much more glaring, and important, is that he has been solid on the defensive end of the floor and has played with the type of energy Chicago fans have been dying to see. So what has been the difference for him lately?
"I think he's playing confident basketball right now," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "He understands what's asked of him and Thibs is giving him … we're running a lot of things for him right now and I think he's just playing within himself. Just very confident and playing at a very high level."
Teammates can tell that Boozer has been more engaged on both ends of the floor. The key appears to be that without Rose and with Noah and Luol Deng taking a back seat on offense, the veteran forward knows he is going to get touches almost every time down the floor and is playing with the confidence of a man who knows no matter what he does, he'll still get 15-20 shots a night.
"Booze has been dominant," Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. "Dominant. Calling for the ball, being real physical, the way he's capable of doing. Just attacking the rim and he's been very vocal as far as giving guys encouragement even when guys mess up. He's been doing everything; playing solid D, hustle plays … challenging the rim on defense, he's been doing everything great. In practice, pushing and motivating guys, he's doing what he needs to do."
Gibson's point is interesting in the sense that it appears Boozer has helped fill a leadership void that was left when Rose went down. Boozer has always been a vocal player, but now he is putting that voice to good use on and off the floor and his teammates are listening to him.
"He is playing very well," Thibodeau said. "We are feeding off him. We have been able to establish in the post, that is very important for us. Carlos is making a lot of good plays and his teammates are searching him out."
For his part, Boozer attributed his success to 'just playing off my teammates' but the reality is that he is starting to earn some level of trust with them that may not have been there in years past. The numbers are nice, but what both his teammates and fans appreciate more are the hustle plays like in Miami last Friday and the extra things he's done to improve his game.
"We jell," Boozer said. "We work hard together. We hang out together. It's like a college team, man. We all ride for each other when everybody do well. Games like this are fun because everybody played so great. We like moments like this. We wish all the games could be like this."