Backup point guard C.J. Watson is such a low-key guy, it's easy to forget he's among the Bulls' walking wounded. But Watson is playing through elbow and wrist injuries and making a bigger impact as he gets healthier.
Watson played a key role off the bench in the Bulls' 105-102 victory over the Knicks on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden. Replacing Derrick Rose in the second quarter, Watson scored 10 points in a 4:55 stretch as the Bulls built a 42-35 lead before Rose returned.
Watson finished with 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting, with three steals and two turnovers.
''His timing's coming around,'' coach Tom Thibodeau said. ''Each game is better and better, so he's getting comfortable again. He's nicked up pretty good. But he's a tough guy.''
Though Watson is Rose's back-up, Thibodeau is still experimenting with Watson playing in the same backcourt with Rose. It never quite clicked last season, but it's still worth a try -- especially considering how effective the Dallas Mavericks were against the Heat in the NBA Finals last season with two point guards on the floor at the same time (Jason Kidd/Jason Terry/J.J. Barea).
Thibodeau tried it against the Sixers on Wednesday night. It still remains a work in progress. But Thibodeau remains encouraged by the potential of a Watson-Rose backcourt.
''We know it's a good weapon to have,'' Thibodeau said. ''I am comfortable with it. We've used it in the past and it's been effective. I like to have it as part of what we can do. And C.J.'s very comfortable playing the 1 or the 2.
''It gives you that second pick-and-roll player also -- if you keep the ball moving, now you can run into that second pick-and-roll. Sometimes those are the most difficult ones to defend.''
Thibodeau took the blame for an apparent brain cramp by guard Ronnie Brewer, who fouled Carmelo Anthony with 6.3 seconds left and the Bulls leading 104-100. Anthony made both free throws, which ended up giving he Knicks one last chance to tie, but Anthony's 33-footer hit the front of the rim as time ran out.
''That was a mistake,'' Thibodeau said. ''Those are things you like to work on in practice. It was a miscommunication on my part with Ronnie. Up three, we would like to use [the foul]. Up four, we want to stay down and not react to a shot fake and not put ourselves in position where they can have a four-point play. That was on me.''
Former Oak Park-River Forest standout Iman Shumpert is building a following in New York with his energetic and athletic play as the Knicks' starting point guard. Shumpert, a 6-5, 220-pound rookie who left Georgia Tech after his junior season, is averaging 10.6 points, 3.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game.
He scored 10 points on 5-of-9 shooting against the Bulls, with eight assists, four turnovers and five rebounds. He had a tough matchup against Rose, who blew by him every so often for easy baskets. But Shumpert appears to learn quickly. It'll be an interesting matchup when the Bulls and Knicks play March 12 at the United Center.
''He's getting better at the point guard,'' Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said. ''He has to take care of the ball and make sure it gets to the right guys and he is getting better.''
Home away from home
The Bulls (19-6) continue their nine-game ''road trip'' with what could turn into a virtual home game against the Milwaukee Bucks (10-12) at the Bradley Center on Saturday night. The Bucks are 26th in the NBA in attendance, averaging 14,432 fans per game). Even LeBron James, Marquette product Dwyane Wade and the Heat drew just 16,116 fans to the 18,717-seat Bradley Center on Wednesday night.
That shouldn't be a problem Saturday night. The Bulls are No. 1 in the NBA in both home (21,869) and road (18,063) attendance. Bulls fans all but took over the Bradley Center last March, and were treated to a virtuoso performance by Rose (30 points, 17 assists) in a 95-87 victory before a sellout crowd.
The Bucks overcame a 17-point first-quarter deficit to upset Miami 105-97. The Bucks allowed 40 points in the first quarter (24 by James), but only 57 in the final three quarters. The Bucks, though, predictably were flat off that performance and lost to the lowly (5-20) Detroit Pistons 88-80 on Friday night.
The Bucks figure to bounce back against the Bulls at home, but don't count on it. The Bucks are 2-5 in the tail-end of back-to-back games this season, beating the Timberwolves and the Lakers. The Bulls are 9-2 in the back end of consecutive games this season, winning their last seven in a row.
Butler loves the Garden
The last time Bulls rookie Jimmy Butler played at Madison Square Garden before Thursday was with Marquette in the Big East tournament quarterfinals, when he scored 14 points in an 81-56 loss to Louisville. He had won two previous games at the Garden to get to that point.
''[Thursday night] was different,'' he said. ''It was a way different atmosphere going against a lot of different-type players. Those are the one you watched int he Garden and said, 'I want to be there.' Way different than college. But it was truly a great feeling.''
No rest for the weary
The Bulls have played on consecutive days 11 times this season, tied with the Charlotte Bobcats for the most back-to-backs in the NBA. They are 18-5 in those games and are one of eight teams that has not lost on back-to-back days. The Bucks have lost on back-to-back days three times and have yet to win on back-to-back days.