On the day Derrick Rose suffered his second season-ending knee injury within two years, the Bulls were 6-4 heading into the game at Portland on Nov. 22.
Back then, it was difficult to imagine the Bulls reaching the all-star break filled with positive feelings, but that's what happened. By knocking off the Brooklyn Nets 92-76 on Thursday night at the United Center, the Bulls returned to two games above .500 and head into the break on a three-game winning streak.
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Naturally, Joakim Noah was in a good mood and, as the Bulls' lone representative in Sunday's All-Star Game, he provided some interesting insight into the experience.
"It's going to be fun. It's going to be weird, awkward and fun, all at the same time," Noah said. Asked to elaborate, he added, "You know, just the locker room, is always … not my favorite part. At the end of the day, it's an unbelievable honor to be part of that. I just try not to take none of these moments for granted. Even those awkward moments, I'll remember them."
Noah didn't give a full explanation of why he finds the all-star experience awkward, but he didn't have to. Bulls fans surely understand his feelings.
Out on the court Thursday, Noah was fully engaged with two of his favorite frenemies: Brooklyn's Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
Those two guys are no longer all-stars, but Noah will be sharing the Eastern Conference locker room with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Roy Hibbert. That part is easy to understand.
"Just the locker room … I don't know," Noah continued. "You guys know. It's strange."
This victory improved the Bulls' record to 15-7 since Jan. 1, which is remarkable considering besides losing Rose, they traded top scorer Luol Deng to Cleveland on Jan. 6.
At the start of the night, Brooklyn owned the best record in the East since Jan. 1 at 14-6, but now Indiana (15-6) has taken over that honor. The Nets played at home Tuesday, beat the snow out of town, but are just 2-10 in the second leg of back-to-back games this season.
Brooklyn started the game with some strange matchups. First-year coach Jason Kidd stuck with a three-guard lineup featuring Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Shaun Livingston. At the start of the game, Noah and Pierce were guarding each other on both ends.
The plan backfired on the Nets because the Bulls finished with a 45-27 rebound advantage. Carlos Boozer returned from three games off with a left-calf strain to produce 15 points and 10 rebounds.
"I just play off Joakim, our point center, and go from there," Boozer said. "He's just a great passer, man. When we get the ball to Jo, our offense runs a lot smoother."
Taj Gibson returned to a bench role and still led the Bulls in scoring with 16 points. Noah, Jimmy Butler and Mike Dunleavy scored 14 points each.
Midway through the third quarter, Butler and Johnson got into a mild scuffle following an offensive foul on Johnson. Noah played peacemaker by helping push Butler out of the mashup.
"I'm just trying to keep the peace, you know what I mean?" Noah said. "I'm a peace-and-love kind of guy."
The Bulls led by as many as 14 points. Brooklyn pulled within 75-72 with 6:29 left after an Andrei Kirilenko 3-pointer. D.J. Augustin's 3-pointer on the other end sparked a 9-0 Bulls run, and they finished the game on a 17-4 surge.