Bring on the Nuggets!
Two days after ''laying an egg'' and looking tired and out-of-sync in a blowout loss to Denver at the United Center, the rejuvenated Bulls looked more like the team with the best record in the NBA in a 98-77 rout of the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena in Atlanta.
With Derrick Rose and Richard Hamilton still out with injuries, the Bulls' second-unit provided the ''energy-and-effort'' coach Tom Thibodeau's team thrives on to take control of a close game in the second quarter.
Luol Deng, who hit his first five three-point attempts to break out of a 4-for-27 slump from long range, scored 10 of his game-high 22 points in a 5:20 span with the second unit in the first half. Third-string point guard John Lucas III hit two three-pointers and scored all 10 of his points in the second quarter. And Taj Gibson and Omer Asik helped the Bulls control the paint, with Gibson putting the clamps on red-hot Hawks forward Josh Smith and also scoring 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting.
''Overall, everyone played well,'' Thibodeau said. ''I loved the energy of the team. Their attitude was great in the shootaround [Wednesday]. The game didn't start perfectly for us [the Bulls trailed 13-5 in the first 4:43]. But we worked our way through the start. We just kept grinding away and it worked out for us.''
Carlos Boozer added 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting with nine rebounds. Joakim Noah scored 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds and guard Ronnie Brewer added seven rebounds and four assists. After shooting 13-for-20 on three-pointers in the loss to the Nuggets on Monday night, the Bulls hit their first seven three-point attempts against the Hawks and finished 9-of-16 from beyond the arc for the game.
''We played great,'' Deng said. ''We moved the ball well. Guys got easy looks because of the ball movement. I thought Kyle made a lot of good plays coming off those pin-downs and just finding the open guys.''
The Bulls trailed 23-17 late in the first quarter when Deng scored on a drive and Gibson hit a baseline jumper to get the Bulls within 23-21 after one. Lucas entered the game in the second quarter and hit a pull-up jumper 18 seconds into the stanza. Korver took a pass as he came around a screen underneath the basket and made a nifty pass back to Asik down low for a dunk. Deng folioed with his second three-pointer to complete an 11-0 run for a 28-23 lead.
With the Bulls leading 42-36, Lucas hit a pair of three-pointers, Boozer scored on a turnaround and two free throws and Noah scored from close range for a 12-0 run that opened a 54-36 lead with 2:31 left in the first half.
''A lot of guys stepped up and played well,'' Korver said. ''We had a lot of energy -- that's the biggest thing. We talk about defense and rebounding all the time. You don't do those things well unless you're trying hard, flying around and we had a lot of guys doing that tonight.''
The Hawks (30-22) scored the last six points of the second quarter and outscored the Bulls 10-2 to start the third quarter to cut the Bulls' lead to 56-52. But Deng hit a pull-up jumper and Boozer hit a 20-footer. Deng later hit two more three-pointers and Noah scored twice in a 12-0 run that blew it open at 74-56 with 2:06 left in the third quarter.
The Bulls made the Hawks look tired and slow, probably because they were tired and slow. The Hawks, who lost to the Bucks in Milwaukee on Tuesday night, were playing their fifth game in six nights, including a four-overtime game against Utah.
Hawks all-star Joe Johnson had averaged 43 minutes in a four-game stretch prior to the Milwaukee game, when he scored 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting, 1-for-6 on three-pointers. He wasn't much better against the Bulls. After hitting his first two shots he was 3-of-9 from the field and scored 12 points.
''We had a certain edge to us tonight that we were lacking the other night,'' Boozer said. ''It was good to see everybody having fun and enjoying the game and play the game the way we like to play.''