On a day when Derrick Rose returned to the court after admitting he will never fully recover from his sprained left big toe this season, the Bulls learned their second-best player, Luol Deng, could be out for an extended period. The extent of Deng's wrist injury is something the player and the team want to keep strictly confidential, at least for now.
Meanwhile, on the court, little changed as the injury-depleted Bulls posted yet another routine victory. Deng's loss is a huge one for the Bulls and yet his absence went largely unnoticed as Rose, Rip Hamilton and Joakim Noah led the Bulls to a 110-95 win over the Nets at the United Center. It was their fourth straight win and ninth in 10 games.
Rose made his first appearance since posting a double-double against the Raptors on Jan. 14 and finished with 22 points and eight assists while wearing an insert to protect his toe.
"To miss as much time as he did and two come out and play like he did says a lot about him," coach Tom Thibodeau said of Rose. "His timing wasn't there but it will get up to speed quickly."
Rose relishes playing against the league's elite point guards and ex-Illini star Deron Williams qualifies. The matchup between two players competing for a spot on the 2012 Olympic roster was mano a mano at times in the second half. Williams had 16 points and 10 assists.
"With this injury I'd say being explosive, taking off but it really didn't bother me today," Rose said when asked how the injury impacts his game.
Hamilton did whatever was needed and finishing with 22 points and 10 assists to help the Bulls dominate in virtually all phases.
The Bulls didn't get a 20-point effort from a starting point guard last season. Hamilton has now scored 20 or more in back-to-back games.
"With me, it's not all about scoring," Hamilton said. "There are so many great players on this team that my job is to make everybody's job easier whether it's scoring or passing."
Noah returned from a twisted ankle to turn in one of his best performances of the season. Noah was a late scratch on Saturday night after twisting his ankle in Cleveland the night before but had 16 points and 10 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the season.
Boozer had 14 points and nine rebounds and Ronnie Brewer, who started for Deng at small forward, had 11 points and five boards.
"I didn't know that until he came to the team," Rose said when asked if he knew Hamilton was such an accomplished passer. "He a better passer than I am."
The Bulls have remained formidable despite a slew of injuries in part because of their willingness to make the extra pass. Their unselfishness was on display early while building a 16-point lead at the half. Brian Scalabrine and C.J. Watson set Omer Asik up for back-to-back buckets in the second quarter, for example. Hamilton set up Noah for consecutive bunnies as the Bulls extended their lead to 21 in the third. In the fourth, it was Scalabrine again setting up Watson for a 3-pointer to beat the Nets' zone and maintain a 20-point lead.
The Bulls had a season-high 33 assists in the game.