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updated: 2/14/2012 11:16 PM

Bulls win coach a trip to All-Star Game

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  • Bulls center Joakim Noah shoots past Kings power forward DeMarcus Cousins on his way to a season-high 22 points Tuesday night.

      Bulls center Joakim Noah shoots past Kings power forward DeMarcus Cousins on his way to a season-high 22 points Tuesday night.
    Associated Press

 
 

By beating Sacramento on Tuesday night in a surprisingly high-scoring 121-115 shootout, the Bulls clinched the Eastern Conference all-star coaching job for Tom Thibodeau. Now, suddenly, everyone's a comedian.

"I think he's very deserving," Joakim Noah said. "I just hope they don't have to do defensive slides and closeouts during all-star (practices). I hope he takes it easy on those guys."

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Kyle Korver went with another obvious angle: "It's great. I just hope he doesn't play Lu and Derrick 40 minutes."

Even Luol Deng, a first-time all-star himself, got into the act.

"It's an honor to be going to the All-Star Game, and I know Coach is definitely thrilled that he's going," said Deng, who produced 23 points and a career-high 11 assists against the Kings. "But if he had a choice, I doubt if he'd be going."

For his part, Thibodeau described his seat on the all-star bench as an honor, but he did crack a joke about playing the highest-scoring non-overtime game of his head-coaching career.

"We're trying to take it back to the ABA," he said.

This was the third-most points a Thibodeau-coached Bulls team has allowed in a four-quarter game. The highest was 120 points by the Knicks in the fourth game of Thibodeau's head-coaching career.

"They were pushing the tempo to start the game and we feel like we can play a lot of different ways," he said. "We can play fast; we can play slow. We want to be a complete team."

At the start of the night, the dominant news was Derrick Rose missing his third straight game with back spasms. After seeing a specialist Monday and being reassured by an MRI exam that there is nothing structurally wrong with his back, Rose promised to be back soon.

Maybe not in time for a rematch with the Boston Celtics and Rajon Rondo on Thursday, but soon was the promise.

"Every day, I'm getting better. I was worried about it at first, knowing that I didn't know where it came from," Rose said. "They said something where my toe could be the effect on why I'm having pain in my back."

Rose missed five games last month with a sprained left toe, and it's possible favoring that injury might have caused the back problems. He hasn't experience any lingering back pain since high school.

"I shouldn't have any problems in the long run," he added. "This back thing should be behind me in a couple days. I should be back out there in a couple days and take my time and be smart and make sure I'm stretching."

This was the Bulls' first home game in 18 days, and they responded with their 18th straight win over a team with a record below .500.

But this one wasn't as easy as it seemed on paper.

The Bulls (24-7) built a 19-point lead early in the fourth quarter, but Sacramento got as close as 117-115 with 14.8 seconds left. Kyle Korver and Deng each knocked down a pair of free throws to clinch the win.

"Over the course of a season, you have to win different ways," Thibodeau said. "Obviously, our defense needs a lot of work. Overall, I'm pleased with the win."

Besides Deng's career-high in assists, Noah scored a season-high 22 points and added 11 rebounds. Korver hit 4 of 5 shots from 3-point range and scored 18 points. Taj Gibson hit 7 of 8 attempts from the field for 15 points. Backup guard John Lucas had a career-high 9 assists.

Sacramento forward DeMarcus Cousins piled up 28 points and 17 rebounds, while guard Tyreke Evans scored 27.

mmcgraw@dailyherald.com

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