The Chicago Bulls’ season-high seven-game road trip had all the makings of a disaster after they opened with losses to a pair of Western Conference also-rans.
Four games later, it’s looking like the spark that’s turned their season around.
The Bulls try to close the trip with a fifth straight win Friday night against the New Orleans Hornets, who look to protect one of the West’s best home records upon returning from their own successful road swing.
Chicago (22-22) has won four in a row for the third time since Christmas, but this latest run is easily the most surprising. The Bulls were 4-15 on the road after losses to Golden State and the Los Angeles Clippers to open this trip, but they’ve knocked off four consecutive playoff contenders.
Coach Vinny Del Negro’s team has shot 50.6 percent from the floor while holding opponents to 39.4 percent, and its most impressive defensive effort came Wednesday in Oklahoma City. Chicago limited the Thunder to 36.9 percent shooting, hounding Kevin Durant(notes) into a 7-for-19 effort and leaving with a 96-86 win.
Rose has been the catalyst during the streak, averaging 26.3 points and shooting 59.3 percent. After scoring 15.3 points per game during a 7-11 start, Rose has since averaged 22.8 in helping the Bulls reach .500 for the first time since Nov. 21.
“It all starts with Derrick Rose,” said Joakim Noah(notes), who’s averaged 13.0 points and 12.4 rebounds over his last 17 games. “He’s just playing huge for us, making the right decisions, staying aggressive offensively. When your point guard is playing like that, it usually leads to good things.”
Noah and Tyrus Thomas(notes) keyed a 96-85 win over New Orleans (25-20) on Dec. 26 at the United Center. Noah had 17 points, 18 rebounds and four blocks, while Thomas had 21 points and nine boards off the bench.
Chicago, which has followed its previous four-game win streaks with at least two straight losses, hasn’t won five in a row on the road since concluding the 2005-06 season on a six-game run.
The Hornets have won 16 of 20 at home, where they return following an impressive trip. New Orleans closed with a third victory in four games - its only loss coming in overtime to Denver on Saturday - after Chris Paul(notes) had 38 points in a 123-110 win over Golden State on Wednesday.
The Hornets were 6-15 on the road heading into the trip.
“This was a big trip for us. We won in some tough venues,” said Paul, who averaged 27.8 points on 58.8 percent shooting. “Everyone knows the road has been our Achilles’ heel so far.”
The play of Paul’s new backcourt mate has also been critical. Rookie Marcus Thornton(notes) averaged 18.5 points in the final two games of the trip, starting after New Orleans shipped Devin Brown(notes) to the Bulls for backup center Aaron Gray(notes) on Monday.
Brown, who has yet to play for the Bulls, led New Orleans with 22 points in Chicago last month.