The Chicago Bulls wrapped up easily their best month of the season with a road win over a team missing many key players. They’ll try to get off to a strong start in February by doing the same.
The New Orleans Pelicans, though, could be welcoming back Anthony Davis on Saturday night against Chicago, and they didn’t even need him to beat the Bulls in a thriller in the teams’ only meeting this season.
Chicago (23-22) went 11-4 in January despite the absence of injured former MVP Derrick Rose and the trade of former All-Star Luol Deng to Cleveland on Jan. 6.
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"We have a roster full of NBA players just like everybody else," guard Jimmy Butler said. "A lot of people sleep on us, but we have a really talented group of guys that do so many things well. When we play together and just as hard as we can, I think we can win a lot of games."
The Bulls looked like they might end the month on a sour note after losing 95-86 at home to Minnesota on Monday and starting a six-game road trip Wednesday against Southwest Division-leading San Antonio.
Instead, Chicago won 96-86 over the Spurs, who were without three starters and top reserve Manu Ginobili. Butler’s 19 points led seven players in double figures for the Bulls, who posted a 52-26 scoring advantage in the paint.
"The last 20 games or so, this team has played very hard and very well," coach Tom Thibodeau told the team’s website. "I love the spirit of our team. We’ve got a great fight to us. I see a lot of possibilities for this team, a good fighting spirit. Playing hard, playing together, playing for each other. That goes a long way in this league."
Chicago has also played well in recent trips to New Orleans (19-26), winning five in a row there. The Pelicans, however, pulled out a 131-128 win in triple-overtime at Chicago on Dec. 2, even with Deng scoring 37.
Jrue Holiday converted the deciding three-point play with 2.6 seconds left, and Ryan Anderson scored a career-high 36 points. Holiday hasn’t played since Jan. 8 because of a stress fracture in his right tibia, and Anderson is out with a herniated disc.
Starting center Jason Smith is recovering from right knee surgery.
Davis didn’t play against the Bulls with a fractured left hand, and he broke his index finger on that same hand while scoring 30 points and blocking eight shots in a 100-89 win in Cleveland on Tuesday. The Chicago native sat out an 88-77 loss in Minnesota the next night – which snapped New Orleans’ three-game win streak – but coach Monty Williams indicated the move was mainly precautionary.
"We could have held him out (Tuesday) night, but he was so adamant about playing that I let him go," Williams said. "So, now we have to be his brains and make sure he doesn’t hurt his finger. But he should be ready for our next game."
Davis had 15 points and 10 rebounds in his only game against Chicago, a 96-87 home loss Feb. 19. Eric Gordon had a team-best 20 points in that game and scored 23 in the triple-overtime win in December.
Bulls center Joakim Noah, named to his second All-Star team this week, has double-doubles in seven of his last eight games against New Orleans. He has at least 10 rebounds in 17 straight overall.