Luhm: With Rose's return, Bulls will be a contender
If you watched the Jazz-Bulls game closely Friday night, you saw a team capable of reaching the conference finals.
It wasn't Utah.
On the surface, the Bulls' 93-89 victory was neither flashy nor overpowering. Given the circumstances, however, it was incredibly professional.
Concluding a six-game road trip at altitude without its two best point guards, Chicago rallied in the final five minutes and beat the Jazz.
Utah played well, except for a late stretch on offense when the Bulls dared someone other than Al Jefferson to beat them and nobody could.
The Jazz defended better than they have in weeks, and Jefferson's season-high 32 points put them in position to win.
The Bulls simply didn't allow it and improved their record to 30-20.
That's hardly Jordan-like, but considering the Bulls have played this season without 2011 MVP Derrick Rose, they are perfectly positioned to make a run in the East when he returns in the next few weeks.
Rose was injured during last year's playoffs. His nine-month recovery time should have ruined everything for Chicago.
Obviously, it did not.
"You are never going to replace a guy like Derrick individually," said coach Tom Thibodeau. "So we understood it would have to be done collectively."
Said Carlos Boozer: "We have a team full of guys that grind. We play for each other. We're all good dudes. We all want to win. We put that above everything else. And we are all committed to each other."
Take the win over Utah.
With Kirk Hinrich and Rose sidelined, Nate Robinson stepped up. He finished with 18 points, nine assists and four rebounds in 46 minutes.
When Hinrich and Rose are healthy, Robinson hardly plays.
"â¦ We have to have discipline," Thibodeau said. "Whoever has to go in there, they have to go in and do their job. When we have discipline when we don't have shortcuts we'll be in position to win. When we take shortcuts, the results are not going to be good."
Led by All-Stars Luol Deng and Joakim Noah and a rejuvenated Boozer, the Bulls are fourth in the East. But the Utah win moved them within one-half game of Indiana and three of the up-and-down Knicks.
When Rose returns and if he can quickly regain his MVP form Chicago could finish as high as second in the East. That, in turn, could translate into a conference final against LeBron James and Miami.
Boozer knows it.
"At the end of the day, we've been short-handed every game," he said. "Without [Rose], we have to play extra hard to have a chance to win. We've accepted that. But with him, our team goes from here to here."
Boozer placed his flattened palms at chest level and suddenly raised them over his head.
"With him, man, it's leaps and bounds for us," he said. "With him, we're more talented than most teams."