Bulls continue dominance with win over Hawks

Published Mar. 28, 2012 11:36 p.m. ET

It seemed like an even trade-off. It wasn’t.

Bulls’ 98-77 victory over the Hawks on Wednesday at Philips Arena made
last year’s second-round playoff series, in which the teams were
deadlocked for the first four games before Chicago advanced, seem like a
distant memory.

The league-leading Bulls (41-11) won three of
four to take the season series from the Hawks (30-22), who entered the
day sixth in the Eastern Conference but sit only a game up on Boston

It was the kind of game that gives rise to the thought
that the first two playoff rounds in the East could represent a foregone
conclusion: Can anyone beat the Bulls or Miami Heat?

seems a worthy challenger at 32-19, just four games behind Miami in the
Southeast Division, but the Magic got whipped in New York on Wednesday
by the Knicks, who started the day .500 and eighth in the East.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said his team still has room for improvement, but what it’s doing is impressive nonetheless.

have the right guys. It starts there,” he said. “I think the attitude
and the approach of the team is excellent. These guys do a great job.
Even when we’re not playing well, they’re determined the next time to
get it right. When you have guys like that, that’s what allows your team
to improve each and every day.”


These days for the Bulls, not
playing well means entering on a 2-1 stretch that included a one-point
overtime victory. The Bulls were coming off Monday’s 108-91 loss to
Denver, but powered by Luol Deng’s game-high 22 points on relentless
3-point shooting — he finished 5 of 8 — they still have not lost
back-to-back games this season.

Chicago trailed by eight early,
but after Omer Asik’s dunk 48 seconds into the second quarter put the
Bulls up 25-23, they never trailed again. Down by 12 at halftime,
Atlanta pulled within four, but the Bulls motored away on a 20-4 run to
finish the third quarter.

“We hate losing,” said Bulls forward
Carlos Boozer, who pitched in 20 points and nine rebounds. “We all felt
like we played horrible (against Denver). … Everybody brought their ‘A’
game. Great intensity, great focus against. I think it speaks to our
character how well we came back.”

The Hawks were not in the
greatest position to bring their ‘A’ game. They had lost the night
before in Milwaukee and were playing their fifth game in six days,
including Sunday’s four-overtime special against Utah.

In that sense, Deng did not want to look too much into the outcome.

mean, they’re a good team,” he said. “We’re not going to take one game
(with) the schedule the way the schedule is. They played last night.
They’ve had a tough stretch. There’s games we’ve felt that way this year
with energy.”

Before the game, Atlanta coach Larry Drew called
playing Chicago as the fifth game in six days a “test of will.” Yet he
knew what his team was up against, even with Rose missing an eighth
straight game with a groin injury.

“They’re still good,” Drew
said. “I think without Rose in the lineup they have some very quality
wins. They beat Miami at home in Chicago. They went to Orlando and beat
them. They’re still a very, very capable ballclub … without Rose.”

himself said on Wednesday that as much as he would like to play, it’s
encouraging to see what his teammates are doing without him.

the beginning of the season we have the end of the season thought in
our head (that) we’re just trying to become a complete team,” he said.
“… I think me being out is giving my teammates confidence to win games
to find ways to win games.”

Apparently so. And it might give most
other comers, aside from the Heat and possibly the Magic, some doubt
about beating them when playoff time arrives.