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updated: 1/7/2014 11:20 PM

Bulls carry on, win with strong defense

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  • The Bulls' Taj Gibson goes up to defend a shot by the Suns' Gerald Green on Tuesday night at the United Center. The Bulls won 92-87.

    The Bulls' Taj Gibson goes up to defend a shot by the Suns' Gerald Green on Tuesday night at the United Center. The Bulls won 92-87.
    Associated Press


No one on the Bulls enjoyed walking into the locker room Tuesday night and seeing the stall occupied for the past nine years by Luol Deng sitting completely empty.

There were some awkward moments before the game as everything about their routine changed with Deng now traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

"We're so used to hearing Lu say, 'Bulls on 3' (before they take the court)," Jimmy Butler said. "It's not Lu anymore. (It was) me and it was weird. But new roles, new leaders. We've got to step up."

Coach Tom Thibodeau's heavily repeated phrase, "We have more than enough to win with," rang true Tuesday. Even without Deng, the Bulls knocked off the Phoenix Suns 92-87 at the United Center.

"Every time they have been challenged they've responded," Thibodeau said. "This is another challenge for them. I thought they did a great job of getting themselves ready today."

The Bulls (15-18) won by playing their usual strong defense. This was the fourth straight game the Bulls allowed fewer than 90 points -- and the Suns came into this game averaging 104.

Taj Gibson, starting in place of the injured Carlos Boozer, led the Bulls with 19 points. Joakim Noah piled up 14 points, 16 rebounds and 6 assists. Noah declined to speak to reporters before or after the game and was clearly emotional about the trade.

"Joakim is an emotional guy," Thibodeau said. "It's good. It's also what drives him. You don't want to take that away."

While the Bulls missed plenty of what Deng brought to the team, rookie Tony Snell got more playing time and added a different dimension. Snell knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter as the Bulls opened up a 78-65 advantage.

Phoenix, which had won 11 of its previous 14 games, closed within 84-80, but a Kirk Hinrich 3-pointer and 3 late forced turnovers helped seal the win. The Bulls have won six of their last eight.

"It was tough. We all hate to see Lu go," Hinrich said. "He was a big part of this organization, of this team. He's done so much for us this year and we miss him. But you know, it's a business. We just wanted to go out there and show some pride and play well and we did that."

Hinrich joined the Bulls in 2003, one year before Deng. He was able to accurately summarize the Bulls' plight this season.

"It's tough. We lost our best player (Derrick Rose to a knee injury) and our leading scorer got traded," Hinrich said. "I feel like we've still got a really good group here. I really enjoy playing with all these guys. Tonight, it was one game, but it's pretty rewarding, just to go out there with all the stuff going on and block it out and play hard and get a win."

Butler said he had a phone conversation with Deng on Tuesday and they talked about guarding each other someday soon, among other things.

"There was a lot of joking around," Butler said. "Then we got on a serious note. He told me he was going to miss me. Lu's never told me anything nice since I've been here, so that felt good.

"I wish Lu the best. Lu's going to be great on whatever team he's on. He's definitely going to help his young guys whatever team he's on."

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