1. Just How Good Are Bulls Without Rose?
ATLANTA -- The Chicago Bulls couldn't possibly win a championship without Derrick Rose could they?
On its face the notion seems preposterous; the reigning MVP was most of Chicago's offense a season ago and remains the Bulls' primary crunch-time standby. Yet watching a Rose-less Bulls team methodically tearing another hapless opponent to shreds has to at least make you wonder.
While Rose rehabs a groin injury, the supporting cast bashed the Atlanta Hawks 98-77 with a combination of precision offensive execution and determined, maniacal defense. Luol Deng -- a guy who shot 26 percent on 3-pointers in his first three seasons but has worked to become a great shooter -- led the way with five triples and shut down Joe Johnson defensively, but he had plenty of help. The bench dominated, led by John Lucas' "III-point" binge (10 points and five assists), and the Bulls' deep frontcourt hammered another opponent on the boards (13-8 in offensive boards, 45-36 overall for the league's leading rebounding team).
Chicago is now 12-5 in the 17 games Rose has missed, and while the Bulls have had a few stinkers in his absence, including double-digit home loses to Denver and Portland, they also beat Miami, held Orlando to 59 points and just handed Atlanta its worst defeat of the season (well, tied for it) in the Hawks' own building exacting payback for what was arguably Chicago's own worst game this season, a 109-94 defeat here in January.
Don't get me wrong; they're clearly better off with Rose than without him. A record of 12-5 is nice and all, but they're a dominating 29-6 when Rose plays. Chicago defends about as well with or without him, as it showed again Wednesday, but against tough defenses the Bulls miss him on the offensive end. Offensively, they've averaged 6.5 points per 100 possessions more with Rose on the court, according to NBA.com's advanced stats tool. That deficiency wasn't visible Wednesday night with the 3s falling, but it has been in several games.
Which brings us to the more salient point: If the Bulls are this good without Rose, imagine how they'll be once he returns. Wednesday's tour de force lends further support to the growing impression that Chicago, not Miami, is the team to beat in this season's playoffs.
With Rose, that is. But results like this one also provide a second level of encouragement for the postseason: If Rose happens to have a setback along the way, Chicago fans can at least take solace in the team's barely skipping a beat without him. A title in his absence is still unlikely, but we can no longer say it's impossible.
Statistical support for this story from NBA.com.
2. Around The Association
Recap | Box score
MVP: Marco Belinelli dropped in a team-high 22 points on 13 shots thanks to some hot shooting from behind the arc (4-for-5). He matched a career high with six assists as well.
X factor: Three-point shooting. Golden State did tally 30 points on 28 long-range attempts, but New Orleans was able to score 21 on just 11 shots.
That was efficient: In his first game back after being suspended for body-checking Blake Griffin, Jason Smith had 12 points on 6-for-7 shooting to go with 6 boards, 2 assists and 1 block in 25 minutes of action.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Blake Griffin. After a lazy first-half rebounding effort from the Clippers, Blake was far more active hitting the glass in the second half, finishing with 12 boards. Add in 21 points on 16 shots (coming inside and outside), and you've got an excellent performance.
X factor: Three-point shooting. The Clippers were able to open up lanes for their guards and rolling big men with solid 3-point shooting, while the Suns couldn't manage even 20 percent from long range.
Defining moment: Late in the fourth and with the Clippers running away with the game, Chris Paul penetrated into the lane and hit Griffin on a perfectly timed roll to the basket for a dunk. It was Paul's 15th assist and Blake's 26th and 27th points of the night.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Kawhi Leonard. The quiet rookie scored 19 points on 8-for-11 shooting from the field (3-for-4 from 3) and grabbed nine rebounds. He also harassed Tyreke Evans en route to just six points in 30 minutes for Reke. Kawhi is a dark horse for rookie of the year at this point.
Defining moment: There are several to choose from, but one play that sticks out is Leonard catching the ball on the wing in the fourth quarter with the game close and driving hard down the baseline. Leonard gathered himself like he was going to go over the top of two guys for a slam, but pulled up and hit a soft floater. It was a veteran play and a good excuse for me to keep talking about him.
That was interesting: Stay with me on this one. Boris Diaw is one of the best passing big men in the league, if not the best. How much do those skills fit the Spurs? So much so that Matt Bonner played just 23 seconds. Diaw finds space and open teammates, two things the Spurs like.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Carlos Boozer. Luol Deng's sharpshooting was certainly notable and Deng led the Bulls with 22, but 20 points and nine rebounds from Boozer is what Chicago needs every night. The rebounds especially helped the Bulls cut off the Hawks' blood supply, and Boozer constantly slipped free to find midrange jumpers, neutralizing both Zaza Pachulia and Ivan Johnson. Boozer really painted in the box score in this one.
LVP: Kirk Hinrich. Barely registered against his old team, three points on six shots and just two assists. Meanwhile, the Bulls' reserve guards sliced and diced their way through Atlanta's defense. At one point, Deng blocked a Hinrich 3-pointer. That was pretty much how the game went.
X factor: Taj Gibson, as always. Three offensive rebounds, a block, a steal and 19 points off the bench. The Hawks had no counter for Gibson's athleticism. He pump-faked Josh Smith into the air and then went right around him to get to the rim. You wonder how many teams Gibson would start on.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Andrea Bargnani bounced back from a string of listless performances with a magnificent 26-point, five-rebound effort. He was aggressive from the opening tip and earned 12 free throw attempts, tying a season high.
X factor: Crunch-time composure. Toronto's zone defense flustered the Nuggets' offense late, holding them to 11 points in the fourth quarter. Denver completely melted down, turning a hotly contested game into a snoozer by missing their final 15 shots from the field.
That was a step back: After handing Chicago only its fifth home loss of the season Monday night, the Nuggets failed to show up against a struggling Raptors team that had lost five of its previous six. The loss drops Denver further out of a hotly contested playoff race with only 15 regular-season games remaining.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Kevin Garnett. Garnett always seems to get up for games against Al Jefferson; the player he was traded for back in 2007. Garnett finished with a solid double-double (23 points and 10 rebounds) and did a lot of his damage in the paint.
LVP: C.J. Miles. After hitting a 3-pointer in the first quarter, the Jazz starter proceeded to miss his next nine shots finishing with three points and three rebounds. He also had three seemingly costly fouls.
Defining moment: Kevin Garnett and Al Jefferson got into a little tussle midway through the fourth quarter, resulting in a double technical. After that, KG became really aggressive on the block, and that fire stayed lit for the rest of the game.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Deron Williams. He dropped 11 quick points in a key fourth-quarter run to steer the Nets to victory, putting an exclamation point on the game with a fast-break dunk in the fourth to put the Nets up 19. Deron finished with 30 points and nine assists, looking like the superstar point guard the Nets signed up for.
That was surprising: The Nets are 3-8 in their past 11 games (with two wins against the Bobcats) and have dropped nine straight to the Pacers. After giving up the lead in the third quarter, it looked like they were prime for their usual second-half collapse. That's when Deron Williams, Gerald Green, MarShon Brooks and Johan Petro began hitting everything.
LVP: Danny Granger. He shot just 2-for-8 from the field, missed all four of his 3-point attempts and fouled out midway through the fourth quarter. Kind of says it all.
Recap | Box score
MVP: With Amare Stoudemire out (bulging disk in back), Carmelo Anthony started at power forward, which serendipitously benefited the Knicks. There was no one on the Magic's roster who could defend Anthony (25 points on 9-for-15 shooting).
Defining moment: Despite leading 29-25 after the first quarter, Orlando was blown to smithereens by New York. The Knicks outscored the Magic by 20 in the second quarter and proceeded to turn a close game into a laugher.
That was ruthless: Knicks coach Mike Woodson put the ball in Anthony's hands and let him single-handedly destroy Orlando's defense. New York was most effective offensively when Anthony planted himself in the post to create for himself or others.
3. Wednesday's Best
Kevin Love, Wolves: There's a lot to like about Love when he drops 40 points and 19 rebounds in an 88-83 win over the Bobcats. MVP talk? "In some ways it's warranted, but we need to win a lot more games in order to be anywhere close to that," Love said.
4. Wednesday's Worst
Danny Granger, Pacers: The last time Granger faced the Nets, he feasted his way to 32 points in a 93-88 win on Feb. 16. This time around, Granger had more fouls (six) than points (five) in a 100-84 loss in Newark, N.J.
5. Generations Of Big Men
6. Quote Of The Night
"I'm motivated. I hear y'all calling me old. I hear y'all calling me older. Weathered. I'm motivated, it don't take much to motivate me, man,"
-- Kevin Garnett, after a win over Utah. He had a lot to say.
7. NBA Video Channel
8. Tweet Of The Night
9. Stat Check
Chris Paul and Steve Nash each had 15 assists in the Los Angeles Clippers' win over the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday. It was the first non-overtime game in which players on both teams had 15 or more assists since Apr. 14, 2008, when Ramon Sessions had 24 assists and Chris Duhon had 15 in a game between the Milwaukee Bucks and Chicago Bulls.
Paul scored 15 points Wednesday, but Nash scored only one. Over the past 25 seasons, the only other player who had a game of 15-plus assists but no more than one point is John Stockton, who did it twice (once in 1989-90 and again in 1999-2000).
MVP: Tayshaun Prince. Prince had a turn-back-the-clock night in Cleveland, and went off for 29 points and eight rebounds while hitting all four of his 3-pointers and not turning the ball over once. Very strong game for a guy who has stuck it out in Detroit while the once-proud team has crumbled.
LVP: Luke Walton. Eleven minutes on the court, and the only stats he recorded were two turnovers and two personal fouls. That's impressively bad.
X factor: Cleveland's offense, or lack thereof. Kyrie Irving seems to be struggling with the rookie wall, Tristan Thompson seems to be struggling at catching and dunking, and nobody else on the team can make a shot. Greg Monroe and Detroit's defense deserves some credit, but the Cavaliers offense was absolutely terrible.
MVP: Kevin Love. He has 40 points, 19 rebounds, 4 assists. Kevin somehow stepped up his production even more with several teammates missing Wednesday night's contest due to injury. Twenty-six second-half points sealed Charlotte's fate.
X factor: Besides the Bobcats not having Kevin Love? Rebounding and 3-point shooting. The Wolves outrebounded Charlotte 50-38 and outshot them from deep 38 percent to 23 percent. But that probably could have something to do with not having Love on their team.
Turning point: Charlotte kept things unexpectedly competitive for much of this game. The Wolves held a narrow 68-65 lead to open the final quarter before Love buried back-to-back 3s to stretch the lead to nine. The Bobcats couldn't muster another run and the game was all but over.
10. Bold Play Of The Night