Derrick Rose was quietly--typical for him--talking about the Bulls' more aggressive effort that led to a 100-83 victory over the Phoenix Suns Friday.
Across the locker room, Andres Nocioni was smiling mischievously, having continued the good natured rookie hazing for Rose by moving Rose's locker across the room.
Luol Deng was reminding reporters milling around Joakim Noah, who was his most active of the season with 14 rebounds, that he had just one rebound because Noah was stealing them. "Tell them," chided Deng, who had 14 points.
Noah had let his hair down on and off the court, bouncing off the bench with energy we hadn't seen much this season for the newly starting Aaron Gray and getting more rebounds in the first quarter than he'd had in the last three games. Yes, as Noah pointed out, "they didn't have the Daddy (Shaq) in the middle," and Noah considered playing against rookie Robin Lopez, whose wild thing hair stood on edge well above his head band.
"I think he's got more Varejao hair," Noah decided. "My hair is at a whole different level. I don't understand because a guy has curly hair he can be compared (with me). I don't look anything like Varejao or the Lopez brothers. Mine is more funky. Way funkier."
Noah assured me that is a good thing.
Yes, it was good times again for the Bulls after ugly losses this week in Orlando and Cleveland. The Bulls dominated the Suns, who were leading the league in scoring. The Bulls led by double digits from just into the second quarter and for the remainder of the game, up to 27 at one point as they went to 3-3.
They shot 51.9 percent, outrebounded the Suns 47-33, made 15 steals and five blocks, which is crucial for the Bulls in getting a running game going as they led in fast break points 20-10.
"You can't run without defense," said Rose, who had 18 points, six assists and some of those Oh My! Moments again. "How are you going to run pulling the ball out of the net."
There are favorite Rose moments on nights like this, like when Rose split a double team on the right wing and was a blur to the basket for a layup.Mine was with about 10 minutes left and the Bulls ahead 81-63. Rose got a long rebound and sprinted downcourt with Ben Gordon and Deng on his hips. Getting into the lane, Suns players collapsed back and Rose tried to squeeze a pass to Gordon. Turnover.
On the next possession, Tyrus Thomas, who was effective and active with 14 points and seven rebounds as he lost his starting job, picked off a Boris Diaw pass who hit Rose with Bulls players running shotgun and Suns players backpeddling.
Rose accelerated and, Bam!
"I thought, 'Man, forget this,'" laughed Rose. "I said, 'Hey, I'm right here again. I learned from my mistake."
Yes, the kid is a quick study, and why there is hope for this young Bulls team. It will stumble on the road, and roles and situations remain uncertain. Feelings will be hurt.
"It is frustrating at times," said Noah, who played nine, four and seven minutes in the previous three games. "You want to be out there on the court. There's a lot of really solid players in this (locker room). I try not to complain as much. We have a big game (Saturday against Cleveland). I'm hoping my performance tonight maybe helps me get some minutes tomorrow. It's hard when you come into the game and three minutes later you come out and maybe sometimes you don't really know why. But like I said, this is a team game and you have to make sacrifices for the team. If everyone had the approach that it's all about me, you won't be good.
"We don't have superstars on this team," Noah noted. "We have to stick together and worry about the right things. I just go in and try to effect winning. I'm happy to get an opportunity and hope I get more tomorrow."
Noah should because, unfortunately, Drew Gooden suffered a minor ankle injury but is uncertain for Saturday.
"I tried to go in the second half, but I was running around with a limp," said Gooden. "I wasn't that explosive. I couldn't do anything but set picks and rotate defensively. I didn't have my explosiveness."
Kirk Hinrich, who had five steals and five assists in 15 minutes and was smotheringly effective on Steve Nash, suffered a thumb injury and will have an MRI Saturday.
But most everything went right.
Coach Vinny Del Negro, continuing to insist it meant nothing and reporters make too much of it, took out Thomas and Thabo Sefolosha from the starting lineup and replaced them with Aaron Gray and Hinrich. Gray was ostensibly put in to match up with Shaquille O'Neal, but the Suns elected to rest O'Neal with a second of a back to back for them in Milwaukee Saturday. So with rookie Robin Lopez starting, the better matchup probably was Noah, and he did play a season high 30 minutes with Gray drawing two fouls in four minutes.
Ben Gordon was deadly accurate with a team high 23 points on eight of 13 shooting with six assists and four three pointers, and Gordon said he expected further starting lineup changes as the season progressed.
"He said the lineup isn't set, so I don't see why that would be the last lineup change," said Gordon.
Though Del Negro dismissed it, the benching seemed to inspire Thomas, who had 10 points and five rebounds in the second quarter when the Bulls busted the game open to lead by 14 at halftime.
Thomas breaks your heart.
It's that athleticism, aggressiveness and good shot selection you see on occasion that makes you wonder what if.
I don't think it's any coincidence his best games this season were against Milwaukee (take that, Scott Skiles) and Friday (take than Vinny for benching me).
Some players are like that, like Gooden, who did a terrific job muscling and frustrating Amare Stoudemire, who was coming off that 49-point masterpiece. Stoudemire led the Suns with 26 points, but had 16 from the free throw line as Gooden banged him and finally got some weakside help. Gooden also did an excellent job earlier in the week in relatively controlling Dwight Howard.
It's not unusual for Gooden, who long has had a reputation for inconsistent play.
"I enjoy the challenge," said Gooden. "It kind of wakes me up. Roy Williams (his Kansas coach) used to say he had this guy James Worthy (who did the same). The first year I was always up against good teams and I'd be lackadaisical against the smaller opponents. You have to learn in the NBA every night you've got to show (up)."
The Bulls showed up Friday, which showed it is possible. The offense remain relatively basic with mostly pick and rolls. But this time the Bulls got out in transition more, kept balls alive for second chances (10 offensive rebounds, six from Noah) and made extra passes for 22 assists. Simple stuff, though it works better with a lead and when they relax some and run.
"This definitely was a quality win against a team making a lot of noise now even though they didn't have the Daddy in the middle," said Noah. "We have a ways to go as a team, but this was a step."
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