Chicago Bulls showing good sense of unity

If Fred Hoiberg was editing the Chicago Bulls' 2015-16 first-half highlight film, he'd probably open with the players' group hug of Jimmy Butler after Sunday's comeback win at Toronto.

Hoiberg mentioned three times in the last two days how much he enjoyed the scene after a 115-113 victory over the Raptors. The moment began with Pau Gasol giving Butler a spontaneous, congratulatory hug after Butler scored a franchise-record 40 points in the second half, then the rest of the players in uniform joined in.

"The best part of the season for me was how those guys were out there together on the floor after that Toronto win," Hoiberg said after Tuesday's victory over Milwaukee at the United Center. "That was huge to show the camaraderie, the togetherness.

"If we have that, if everybody's out there worrying about one thing - winning - we could have a pretty good year."

The Bulls are riding a five-game winning streak, and things can turn sour at any time in the NBA. But the past two weeks seem to have proved something about this team: The players do like each other and get along well.

The chemistry issues early this season were more about figuring out a new coach and new offense, not any sort of personality conflict.

There is an interesting mix of personalities in the Bulls' locker room. There is no dominant voice; no one is a particularly loud person.

Butler, who is stating his case as the team's best player, is one of the class clowns. He's a budding star who willingly seeks the spotlight. There's nothing wrong with that. The NBA has grown in popularity over the past 30 years through the personalities of their best players.

Derrick Rose, after all of his injuries, is a former MVP trying to find his place in the current group. He never has been one to speak up, so he gladly cedes leadership to others.

Pau Gasol is the steady veteran presence who generally keeps to himself. Maybe someday he will organize a group outing to the symphony or something like that. He's a very nice guy and willing to offer advice if asked.

Joakim Noah, currently out with a shoulder injury, is the closest thing to a dominant personality in the locker room. He has earned respect not only by playing hard, but with his efforts in the community. Even Rose, a Chicago native, has expressed admiration at Noah's willingness to visit the city's worst neighborhoods to try to make a difference.

There is a division when it comes to tenure with the Bulls. Noah, Rose, Butler, Taj Gibson and Kirk Hinrich have been here at least five years. Everyone else is relatively new.

"I think we've all got a lot of love for each other," Butler said Wednesday at the Advocate Center. "Everybody wants to see everybody be successful. That's why we're winning games.

"But we're buying into any given night it could be anybody that's scoring; it could be anybody that's got it going. You get the ball to them and they'll take us where we need to go."

Ben Wallace used to tell stories of how his Detroit Pistons teams in the 2000s would hang out together all the time, to play cards or watch a fight at someone's house. These Bulls don't do much of that, mostly because of the diverse personalities.

"When you're on that basketball court you've got to be a team, you've got to be a family," Butler said. "Guys are married, guys got kids. So I don't think the off-the-court stuff matters."

Ever since John Paxson took over basketball operations in 2003, the Bulls have put a high priority on character, and it seems to have paid off. The boat doesn't get rocked very often.

Gibson is an example of a guy who always hustles, is willing to accept any role without complaint, and he has earned plenty of respect around the league for his approach.

This isn't meant to suggest the Bulls have uncovered a championship formula, just that the chemistry problems earlier this season weren't about players clashing or not getting along.

The NBA has a built-in conflict of interest. Coaches preach that sharing the ball leads to success, while the players know another rule as an absolute truth - you score, you get paid.

The Milwaukee Bucks seem to be a good example of this pitfall. They have a bunch of young players on rookie-scale contracts battling to push their scoring average higher before it's extension time.

The Bulls have endured plenty of that. Butler has been trying to assert himself (with pretty good success). Rose is used to being the team's dominant scorer and old habits can die hard. Gasol has a history of success and expects to get a certain number of shots.

Then there's a deep cast of role players, who can make a difference or disappear on any given night. For example, Hoiberg didn't play Aaron Brooks or E'Twaun Moore at all against the Bucks.

The thing about the Bulls is during this winning streak, they've all realized what works.

Butler is now the dominant scorer, Rose can pick his spots, and Gasol excels as a spot-up shooter who can play off the other two. Everyone else needs run the floor, play unselfishly and find a hot hand or plan on watching from the bench in the fourth quarter.

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Hoiberg hoping Bulls' offensive surge continues

Bulls scouting report

Bulls vs. Boston Celtics at the United Center, 7 p.m.

TV: Comcast SportsNet, TNT

Radio: ESPN 1000-AM

Outlook: The Celtics were rolling along with a four-game winning streak, then somehow lost consecutive home games to the Lakers and Nets. They won a rematch in Brooklyn and played Detroit at home Wednesday. At Brooklyn, Boston coach Brad Stevens moved Kelly Olynyk into the starting lineup in place of Jared Sullinger. PG Isaiah Thomas is the leading scorer at 20.9 ppg. Second-leading scorer Avery Bradley is expected to be out with a hip injury. SF Jae Crowder (13.9 ppg) is next on the scoring list. The Bulls lost in Boston 105-100 on Dec. 9 despite 36 points from Jimmy Butler, who was working against Crowder, his former Marquette teammate, most of the night.

Next: Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena, 4 p.m. Saturday

- Mike McGraw

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