Bulls 98, Hawks 77: 3-and-D gets Bulls looking impressive again

Well it's tough to blame Josh Smith for not challenging this shot, considering a teammate is hugging his legs. (Mandatory Credit: Paul Abell-US PRESSWIRE)

While they're certainly better with their starting backcourt playing, one area you could say the Bulls are better in without Rose and Rip is 3-point shooting. More minutes for Watson, Lucas, and Korver mean it's a bigger factor in their team strategy. And the Bulls had their second-straight 65% shooting night from behind the arc, but this time it resulted in a victory: as opposed to Monday, in this game they brought their defense as well.

The best marksman of the night was Luol Deng, who hit 5-8 from three on his way to a game-high 22 points. It's quite an achievement by someone obviously playing through so much pain, but he had open looks shot in rhythm and you can figure he's more apt to take them in the current state he's in. Lu scored inside a few times as well but tonight was more of just it being a great shooting night than him being any kind of 'back' to what he was. It's kinda bittersweet, but just because Deng's different hopefully doesn't mean he's much worse. One great part of tonight's game (and credit to Thibs!) was that Lu didn't have to play the final 9 minutes, finishing with 35.

John Lucas pitched in 2 three-pointers of his own, but what really helped Deng dominate tonight was their frontcourt. Outside of rough patches to start each half where they were trying to force things and it led to TOs (they wound up with only 7), the Bulls bigs all chipped in points (Boozer:20, Taj:19, Noah:10) and completely shut down the paint for Atlanta. Outside of Zaza Pachulia's annoying tips, or the rare moments of clarity for Josh Smith's shot selection, the Hawks were forced outside in the halfcourt. Or maybe given their usual attitude combined with being on a back-to-back, they were all-to-eager to settle. It was a rare time for Neil Funk to seem justified in his complete thrashing of the opponent's aptitude, from Smith hoisting outside shots to Kirk Hinrich refusing to do the same even when wide open.

Atlanta's a notoriously thin team as well, and the Bulls bench helped spark huge runs to end both the 2nd and 3rd quarters. This game was potentially the time where they'd finally lose two in a row, but like Luol Deng personifies for the whole team, they're banged up but can still defend, rebound, and get just enough shooting.

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