ATLANTA – Home or away, with or without Derrick Rose, the Bulls just keep on winning.
Luol Deng scored 22 points and led a flurry of three-pointers as the NBA-leading Bulls took another game on the road, blowing out the Atlanta Hawks, 98-77, on Wednesday night.
Deng was 5 of 8 from beyond the arc and the Bulls finished 9 of 16 overall to improve their NBA-best record away from home to 21-6 and their overall mark to 41-11, even while missing Rose for the eighth straight game with a shoulder injury.
The Bulls haven’t missed a beat, winning six times without their MVP.
“We played great,” Deng said. “Guys got easy looks because of the ball movement.”
The Bulls built an 18-point lead in the second quarter. The Hawks scored the final six points of the half, then started the third quarter on a 10-2 run to get to 56-52.
It was all Bulls from there. They ripped off 20 of the next 26 points and a hefty contingent of Bulls fans turned Atlanta’s arena into the United Center South, breaking out the “Let’s Go Bulls!” chant.
“The thing we did well is, even when they made their run, we responded right away,” Deng said. “It was just a great team effort.”
Atlanta’s frustration boiled over midway through the fourth quarter. The Bulls took off on another fast break, leaving Joe Johnson as the only man back against three Bulls players. Carlos Boozer flipped a behind-the-back pass to Taj Gibson, who was tackled – football style – by Johnson, both players going down in the middle of the lane.
Amazingly, Johnson wasn’t even called for a flagrant foul, but the Bulls were hardly flustered. The final minutes were nothing more than a highlight show by the road team, plus a chance for Bulls fans to chant for little-used Brian Scalabrine to get in the game.
He checked in with a little more than a minute remaining.
Deng had plenty of help. Boozer scored 20 points, Gibson added 19, while Joakim Noah and John Lucas chipped in with 10 apiece. Josh Smith led Atlanta with 19 points, but he had only six in the second half.
“It’s been pretty remarkable, with all the guys that have gone down, to have the record that we do,” Kyle Korver said. “Obviously, we’d rather have Derrick playing. But guys keep stepping up.”
The Hawks raced to a 13-5 lead, forcing the Bulls to call an early timeout. But Deng and the Bulls turned the tide with their deadly accuracy from beyond the arc.
Deng made three straight from long range. Lucas swished a pair. Korver and C.J. Watson also connected. The Bulls outscored the Hawks 33-13 over the first 91⁄2 minutes of the second quarter, storming ahead 54-36.
“The last couple of games, they beat us in the paint, so we focused on that. But they came out and made shots,” Atlanta’s Jeff Teague said. “Everybody was hitting shots, from the point guards to the forwards. Not much you can do about that.”
After making their first seven treys, the Bulls finally missed when Lucas’ attempt bounced off the rim just before the buzzer, but the visiting team still went off with a 54-42 lead. The Bulls made 12 of 18 shots in the second period and did its usual stifling job at the defensive end, holding the Hawks to 8-of-21 shooting.
Atlanta finished 32 of 80 (40 percent) from the field, looking very much like a weary team playing for the fourth time in five nights. Teague had 13 points and eight assists, while Johnson was held to 12 points – well off his team-leading 19.1 average.
“We couldn’t get anything going,” Smith said. “We were trying to create some kind of energy, some kind of momentum. It was hard to generate.”
Johnson said the grueling schedule wasn’t the only problem.
“Sometimes, we’re not so disciplined,” he said. “It seems like there’s a few guys who don’t know their roles on this team. We do a lot of things that don’t help us.”
Notes: The Bulls also were without Richard Hamilton (shoulder), who missed his 12th straight game but is close to returning. ... Korver went off with a bloody forehead in the second quarter after getting whacked inadvertently by Hawks C Zaza Pachulia going for a rebound. Korver was patched up enough to get through the game and was expected to get stitches afterward. ... The previous night, Pachulia caught teammate Johnson, forcing him to take several stitches in his upper lip. ... Rapper Lil Wayne watched the game from a courtside seat. ... The Bulls won the season series with the Hawks 3-1. ... The Bulls finished with a 45-36 rebounding edge, including 13 at the offensive end.