Friday, January 11, 2013
Bulls becoming road warriors
By Brian Windhorst ESPN.com
NEW YORK -- It is said that in basketball, defense travels.
The manifestation of that axiom has kept the Chicago Bulls afloat for the past two and a half months as Derrick Rose slowly strengthens his knee. It happened again Friday when the Bulls scored another quality road victory against the battered New York Knicks, 108-101.
Against significant odds, the Bulls are tied with the Los Angeles Clippers for the league's best road record at 10-5 and now are 8-1 on the road against teams from the East.
Without the difference-maker they came to rely on so heavily in close games over the past several seasons, those are surprising numbers -- even to the Bulls themselves.
Especially when considering that the Bulls are a pedestrian 10-9 at home, closer to the .500 team many suspected they'd be until Rose got somewhat back involved. Instead, they're 20-14 overall and surging, now just a half-game behind the Atlanta Hawks for fourth in the conference.
"Yeah, it's weird, man," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "There's something about the road; we come together and we're focused."
Luol Deng and the Bulls are 3-0 against the Knicks this season.
Maybe it's not weird.
Maybe this is what should have been expected. Over the past three seasons -- the Tom Thibodeau era -- no team has more road wins than the Bulls. They are on pace to become the first team to win more than 60 percent of their road games in three straight seasons since the defensive juggernaut Boston Celtics did it from 2007 to '10.
That Celtics defense traveled, and so does this Bulls D, and it shows up over and over again. Even without Rose and with a completely retrofitted bench from last season, the Bulls' rugged style continues to catch home teams off guard. It has for years now.
Last week it was the Miami Heat, who went in with the league's second-best offense and a sterling 15-2 home record. The Heat ended up with their worst offensive night of the season at home, and the Bulls headed to their plane with a smile again.
The Knicks, still clinging to the East's second-best record, now have been handled by Chicago twice in the past month at home. In the three weeks in between those games at the Garden, the Bulls have gone from six and a half games behind New York to only two.
When the third quarter was over Friday, the Bulls had a 22-point lead and were holding the Knicks to 33 percent shooting. A furious but nearly hopeless Knicks fourth-quarter rally made the stats look less lopsided, but it was just window dressing.
The Bulls' way had done it again, and there was another happy visitors locker room.
"It's been huge," Thibodeau said. "We have a pretty good mindset, we understand what it takes to win. We know it's our defense and our rebounding and taking care of the ball. When you do that, you're in position to win."
Meanwhile, the Knicks are going in the opposite direction, both in the standings and on the defensive end.
Before the game, the team announced Marcus Camby would be out up to a month with a strained left plantar fascia, discovered in an MRI taken Friday. The Knicks are not talking about a timetable on the return of Rasheed Wallace, who also has a foot injury. And Amar'e Stoudemire's surgically repaired knee has been acting up to the point that team doctors have implemented a 20-minute maximum per game.
It's safe to say coach Mike Woodson didn't think he'd be starting Kurt Thomas and James White and playing Pablo Prigioni 31 minutes in mid-January, as he was forced to do. The Knicks, who have dropped eight of 13 games to undercut their fantastic start, now are talking in hopeful terms about when they will get players back.
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The reality is, with literally the oldest team in NBA history, it seems unreasonable to believe the Knicks will ever be as healthy as they were at the start of the season when they played so well. That was the danger with how the team was constructed in the offseason.
Regardless of who has been playing, their defense has been in a free fall for around six weeks and sunk to a new low Friday. The Bulls, who rank 23rd in offense, sliced up the Knicks' interior to the tune of 57 percent shooting.
"I don't think we've had a full deck against this team," Woodson grumbled when asked about his team's 0-3 record against the Bulls this season. "We were a step slow to start the game and then we couldn't make shots."
The Bulls, it should be noted, haven't had their MVP for any of those three games. As for the missed shots part, the Bulls' defense seemed to have a lot to do with that as well.