Rip-roaring victory for Bulls

Three days ago, the Bulls took the floor without Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson.

On Monday against New Jersey, Rose and Noah returned, Gibson stayed on the sideline, while minutes-leader Luol Deng went out with a left wrist injury.

Using two different short-handed lineups, the Bulls still were able to post easy victories, the latest a 110-95 win over the Nets at the United Center. They knocked off Charlotte on Saturday without Rose and friends.

These results speak volumes about the quality of opponents. The Nets (5-13) were even playing their third game in three nights. But the Bulls (16-3) also showed a nice versatility with the changing lineups.

One constant performer in the past two games was Richard Hamilton. He unleashed his first 20-point game in a Bulls uniform Saturday, then piled up 22 points and 10 assists against the Nets. As a team, the Bulls delivered a season-high 33 assists.

“He passes better than I do,” Rose said of his new teammate. “I didn't know that until he came to the team. I tell people, you've just got to be able to hit open shots when you're playing with him.”

Added Hamilton, “With me, it's not just about scoring. There are so many great players on this team. My job is to try to make everybody's job easy, whether it's scoring or passing.”

In his return from four games off with a left toe injury, Rose had 22 points and 8 assists in 36 minutes of action. Late in the second quarter, Rose made himself and everyone in the crowd a little nervous with back-to-back fastbreak dunks.

“I was scared to dunk like that,” he joked. “Other than that, chasing D-Will (Deron Williams) around, I didn't feel anything.”

Rose said he was fairly certain Monday would be date he'd return from the toe injury. He'd actually missed five of the previous seven games, dating back to a Jan. 11 contest against Washington.

The Bulls went 4-1 in the games he missed, so there was no pressure to come back too soon — and Rose said Deng's injury had no bearing on his decision to play.

“I knew I could walk to the bathroom without limping, that was a good sign,” Rose said. “I know if someone steps on it again or something like that, it's going to hurt. You never know. I might go the whole year and nobody's going to touch it. I don't know how it's going to go.”

After missing one game with a sprained ankle, Noah was back to his usual form, with 16 points and 10 rebounds. He seemed to be especially vocal at the start of the contest.

“I was just happy to be out there,” he said. “I felt petty good. I'm more focused on my energy, how I'm moving out there, things like that (than statistics).”

Hamilton's first basket gave him 15,000 career points. He missed 10 games with a groin strain, so the Bulls are just beginning to understand what having a savvy veteran who can score will mean to the team.

“Rip is a scoring machine, someone you have to respect when he's on the floor,” Rose said.

Even playing short-handed, the Bulls had all the answers against Charlotte and New Jersey. The job gets a little tougher Wednesday when Indiana visits the United Center in a rematch of last season's first-round playoff series.

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