CHICAGO – Coming off one of the best performances of his career, Joakim Noah did all he could to match it.
He came up short, but not by much.
Noah finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds, Carlos Boozer scored 20 and the Bulls beat the Brooklyn Nets 96-85 on Saturday night.
The Bulls went on a 19-0 run that started in the second quarter and stretched into third, giving them an 18-point lead. And they opened March on a winning note after going 5-8 in February, just their second losing month in 2½ seasons under coach Tom Thibodeau.
"It's been an up-and-down year," Noah said. "But I really feel like when we're playing our best, we can really beat a lot of people. So the potential is definitely there."
Their superstar point guard is not playing, and to many, the Bulls can forget about contending for a championship until Derrick Rose is back and dominating.
Noah understands the perception.
"It doesn't matter," he added. "I know the building's always packed and they're showing a lot of love."
How could they not like this?
Noah followed up the third triple-double of his career with another terrific performance that also included four blocks. He committed five turnovers, but even so, it sure was impressive after Thursday's gem, when he had 23 points, 21 rebounds and a career-high 11 blocks in a win over Philadelphia.
Boozer added eight rebounds and tied a career high with five steals. Jimmy Butler had 13 points, Nate Robinson and Kirk Hinrich scored 12 apiece, and the Bulls won their second straight after dropping seven of 10.
Brook Lopez led Brooklyn with 22 points – 14 in the first quarter – but the Nets fell for the fourth time in five games. Deron Williams cooled off, finishing with 14 after averaging 27 over the previous three games.
Joe Johnson scored 11 in his second game back after missing three with a foot injury and committed five of Brooklyn's 21 turnovers.
"Our energy, effort . isn't there," Johnson said. "We don't get stops and we make it hard on ourselves offensively."
On the other side, Noah was all energy, hustling for points and rebounds and dominating in every way. And there was Butler afterward, just smiling and shaking his head in awe.
"It's crazy to see a guy like him dominate in every aspect of the game," Butler said. "The way he scores the ball, passes the ball, defends. He always has at least two or three in every category, not to mention 20 points, 20 rebounds. It's amazing to see the energy that he brings and how it transfers from the offensive end all the way back to the defensive end."
Noah had 15 points in the first half, and the Bulls led 53-39 at the break after trailing by 11 in the early going.
They scored the final 15 points of the second quarter and got a pull-up jumper and driving layup from Boozer to start the third, turning a one-point deficit into a 57-39 lead.
Daequan Cook started the run by nailing a 3 with 4:16 remaining in the half, and Robinson and Hinrich struck from long range on back-to-back possessions with about a minute remaining.
Butler also scored four during that stretch, including a 20-footer with 18.8 seconds remaining, and Brooklyn's C.J. Watson missed a long jumper at the buzzer to keep the lead at 14.
"Until we can play consistently for more than a three or four-game stretch, until we can play consistently on the road, particularly now, in March, this is what we're gonna be," said interim coach P.J. Carlesimo, who hinted at changes. "We just have to tighten it up. We have to play a lot better, and we have to do it soon."
NOTES: Luol Deng scored just eight points for the Bulls after being elbowed in the mouth by Philadelphia's Spencer Hawes in Thursday's game. He saw the dentist Friday and might need a root canal on one or more of his teeth thanks to the blow that left him with internal bleeding around the jaw. "I have to wait a few days, see how stable my teeth are and how the recovery is and see if I need a root canal on a few of them," said Deng, who is having difficulty eating. ... The Bulls signed veteran F Lou Amundson to a 10-day contract. ... G Richard Hamilton missed his second straight game because of back spasms and Thibodeau did not expect him to travel to Indiana, where the Bulls play the Pacers today. ... This was the first in a stretch of 12 of 15 road games for the Nets, and Carlesimo wasn't thrilled about that. It culminates with eight straight on the road while the Barclay's Center hosts the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. "I don't like it," Carlesimo said. "I'd much rather the schedule was more balanced and we didn't have the circus in for whatever it's in for. A lot of teams go through this at different stages of the year. Some teams are fortunate they schedule away from the playoffs, and it really helps them. We're far from the lone rangers. A lot of teams go through this. Ours is coming at a bad time. You don't want it to happen in March."