The Chicago Bulls stayed put at the trading deadline, feeling confident in their current roster. Their upcoming road trip could show whether that was a wise decision.
Chicago opens a five-game trip Saturday night, trying to avoid a third straight loss at the Bradley Center to the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Bulls (39-17) have won five of six and gone 14-4 since Jan. 14 to stay within reach of Boston and Miami for the Eastern Conference lead.
Chicago’s comfort with team chemistry may be a big reason why it did not make any moves before the trading deadline passed Thursday.
Hours after staying quiet, the Bulls made a statement by defeating the Heat 93-89. Derrick Rose(notes) scored 26 points and Luol Deng(notes) finished with 20, hitting a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 16 seconds left.
“It just lets people know that we can compete with some of the best teams in the NBA,” said Rose, who scored 12 points in the third quarter and 16 in the second half.
Neither team shot particularly well, but the Bulls outrebounded the Heat 53-39 and held them to 40.5 percent shooting, one night after giving up 118 points in a loss at Toronto.
Joakim Noah(notes) helped on the boards. Playing his second game back after missing 30 because of thumb surgery, Noah finished with seven points and eight rebounds, doing much of his damage defensively against Chris Bosh(notes), who missed 17 of 18 shots.
With Noah back to give Chicago a healthy roster and the chance to improve an already solid defense, the team feels it has the pieces to compete with the Celtics and Heat.
“We like our team,” general manager Gar Forman told the Bulls’ official website before Thursday’s victory. “We’ve got a very good basketball team. We want to be smart with the moves we make.”
Saturday opens a critical road trip for Chicago, which will continue on to Washington, Atlanta, Orlando and Miami. It has lost its last two trips to Milwaukee by a combined five points.
The Bulls, who are 11-0 against Central Division opponents, won both games against the Bucks this season at home, including a 92-83 victory Jan. 24.
Milwaukee (22-35) is also opening an important stretch with its next four games coming at home. The Bucks are in 10th place in the East, chasing Indiana and Charlotte for the final playoff spot.
They’ll look to bounce back from a 114-108 loss at New York on Wednesday. Milwaukee is one of the league’s best defensive teams, holding opponents to an average of 93.1 points, but it gave up its second-highest point total of the season to the Carmelo Anthony(notes)-led Knicks, who shot 50.0 percent.
Despite the lack of defense, the Bucks, who are scoring 91.7 points per game, scored 100 points for the second time in 13 games and kept the game close until late.
“We did a better job in the second half, but overall it wasn’t our typical defensive game we play,” coach Scott Skiles said. “There is very fine line between winning and losing in this league and there are plays at those moments that need to be made.”