Fans at the United Center weren't sure how to react.
They usually love cheering for late-game appearances by seldom-used forward Brian Scalabrine. But against Charlotte on Saturday, Scalabrine headed to the scorer's table in the first quarter.
The crowd still cheered, but it was like the ending of a movie being revealed at the 20-minute mark.
The Bulls, meanwhile, repeated a familiar storyline, this time enhanced with more obstacles. Not only did Derrick Rose miss his fourth straight game with a left toe injury, they also played without Joakim Noah (ankle), Taj Gibson (ankle) and John Lucas III (groin).
Last year, the Bulls rallied around the "Bench Mob," the second unit that played so well. This season, it's been the "Depth Charge," as the Bulls keep winning without key players.
Against the Bobcats, they built a 19-point lead in the fourth quarter and hung on for a 95-89 victory. Among the healthy players, Carlos Boozer scored 23 points, Luol Deng had 22 and Richard Hamilton posted 20 points for the first time in his Bulls career. In his first NBA start, center Omer Asik grabbed 15 rebounds.
Point guards C.J. Watson and Mike James combined for 20 points, 19 assists and 3 turnovers. James, in his first extensive action since joining the Bulls, piled up 10 assists.
Then in the locker room, James -- playing for his 10th NBA team at age 36 -- talked about sensing a special atmosphere around the Bulls.
"When I played for the Detroit Pistons, what I really didn't feel from any other team was when the starters were in the game, the bench cheered for them, and when the bench was in the game, the starters were up cheering for them," James said. "That's what you're supposed to do if you're really thinking about moving forward come April and May. It's really being able to be one unit."
Hamilton arrived from Detroit just before the season began and he concurred with James' assessment.
"It's fun when you know that your teammates have got your back and you know your teammates are going to support you through thick and thin," he said. "The guys do a great job. When guys are hurt, they cheer for the guys that are on the floor. In the NBA, that's hard to find, for guys to put their ego and their selfishness to the side.
"But on this team, everyone's willing to put that (garbage) aside to go out and win games."
The Bulls improved their NBA-best record to 15-3. They have three more home dates coming up next week before a monstrous nine-game road trip begins in Miami.
Rose figures to be back on the floor soon. Coach Tom Thibodeau said the swelling in Rose's left big toe is gone. Gibson figures to be out a while with a high ankle sprain, while Noah thinks he'll recover quickly.
"In this season, the deeper teams are going to have more wins than the other teams because you're going to need guys," Boozer said. "Your bench is going to be crucial for you."