(MCT) — CHICAGO — Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau demands that his players not look beyond their next opponent. In this case, that’s the Pacers.
But after the Bulls’ impressive 93-76 victory Saturday night in Atlanta, guard Nate Robinson took a little peek down the road.
“We’re a complete team,” he said, “and we’ll be even more dangerous when everyone gets back 100 percent healthy. People are sleeping on us now. That’s good. We like that.”
Did the Hawks get caught napping against the Bulls?
It would have been human nature to do so.
The Bulls entered the game without three starters, not counting Derrick Rose. Without Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Kirk Hinrich, the Bulls were missing their Nos. 2 and 3 scorers (27.9 combined ppg), their top two rebounders (21 pg) and their floor general/top perimeter defender.
And they still won. And did it with ease, on the road, against a team that entered 26-19.
The domination came in the second half. The Bulls dished 13 assists while turning it over just three times. They limited the Hawks to 33.3 percent shooting. Robinson scored 15 points, draining 3 of 5 from downtown by elevating to his opponents’ knees before launching those pretty jump shots.
“That’s the way I shoot, get the ball out at its highest peak,” he said. “That’s something my father taught me. I shoot with confidence because I feel like I can make it every time.”
After getting outscored 50-32 in the second half, the Hawks readily acknowledged how dominant the Bulls had been.
“They absolutely manhandled us,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said.
Added center Al Horford: “They imposed their will the whole game. They dominated both ends.”
Said Kyle Korver, the former Bulls sharpshooter: “One of our goals was to wear them down. They had a couple of guys (Taj Gibson and Luol Deng) who played a lot of minutes (Friday) night. It was a tough back-to-back, but they took it to us. The Bulls just played really solid basketball, nothing super flashy.”
After the news came out Saturday that Hinrich would miss at least a week after getting his elbow cleaned out and that Noah’s sore right foot throws his status up in the air, the Bulls privately were bracing for a tough stretch.
Look at what’s ahead. The Bulls-Pacers blizzard game was rescheduled for Monday, and the Pacers are coming off what the Associated Press described as a “lopsided” 13-point win over the Heat, the defending NBA champs.
Then the Bulls head to the Rockies to face a Nuggets team that has won six straight. The next day, the Bulls play in Utah, facing a Jazz squad that is 11-5 since the calendar flipped to 2013.
Following a home date with the 38-11 Spurs, the Bulls close out the season’s first half in Boston.
Weaker teams faced with a personnel deficiency and such a rugged slate would fold.
The hard-driving Thibodeau and these players will not let that happen.
Asked after the victory in Atlanta if his team had managed to play a complete, 48-minute game, the coach paused.
“We’re getting closer,” he said. “But we can do better. And we’re going to have to do better.”