This night started out like a Chicago version of Fat Tuesday.
With Richard Hamilton back in the lineup and fans lined up down the block to get the Scottie Pippen bobblehead, the Bulls rolled to an early 20-10 lead over the New Orleans Hornets at the United Center.
As the game progressed, the Bulls nearly ended up with a serious hangover. The Hornets trailed by 9 points with just more than four minutes remaining, then erupted for a stunning 13-0 run and took a 95-91 lead with 1:26 remaining.
That's when everything boiled down to a familiar story line: Derrick Rose rescuing the home team. It worked like a charm as Rose rallied the Bulls for a narrow 99-95 victory.
"We have to knock the rust off a little bit, just everyone coming off vacation and being with their families (during the all-star break)," Rose said. "We're just happy we got the win."
Rose started the final comeback with 2 free throws. Then he missed a jumper, but Joakim Noah's tip-in tied the score with 52.1 seconds left. Before the break, Noah produced his first triple-double and against the Hornets, followed up with 15 points and 16 rebounds Tuesday.
After a Hornets miss, Rose took an unusual shot, a step-back jumper over New Orleans center Chris Kaman from about 18 feet on the left baseline. The shot wasn't perfect, but it bounced in the air and through the net with 19.4 seconds remaining. Two more free throws from Rose settled the outcome.
Just before hitting the go-ahead jumper, Rose was preparing to drive to the hoop, but coach Tom Thibodeau called a timeout with nine seconds on the shot clock.
"It looked like it was bottled up pretty good, and I wanted to make sure we were going to get a good look at the basket," Thibodeau said.
Rose got to the basket and scored a second or two after the referee signaled the timeout, but Rose wasn't concerned.
"I was (surprised). But for him to call it, I've got trust in him," Rose said. "I believe in him as a coach. I didn't have any doubt. We went back to the bench and everybody just focused in on what we had to do.
"I told them they were going to overplay me, I was going to back cut, and Joakim made a great pass. I just tried to make something happen."
The Hornets (8-26) own the worst record in the Western Conference but won four of six games before the break and snapped the New York Knicks' "Linsanity" winning streak.
At the same time, being at full strength might take some getting used to. This was the first time the Bulls (28-8) used a starting lineup of Rose, Hamilton, Noah, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer since Jan. 4 in Detroit, and just the sixth time in 36 games this season.
Hamilton played 17 minutes, finishing with 5 points and 5 assists. After missing all but 11 games because of a groin strain and thigh bruise, Hamilton knows he needs to take his comeback slowly.
"Just got to listen to my body," he said after the game. "I'm stubborn when it comes to that. I just want to play. I want to get out there and want to play the whole game. But that's not the case. I've really got to take my time and just try to get back in the swing of things.
"I felt great tonight. I felt energetic. I felt I was able to get to all my spots on the floor. I think that was the key thing, get to where my comfort zone is. I felt I was doing that."