Ben Gordon scored 37 points, and the revamped Bulls delivered their best offensive effort in years, overcoming a surge by Denver to beat the Nuggets 135-121.
The 135 points were the most since a 140-96 thumping of New Jersey on Jan. 4, 1991. And the Bulls scored at least 30 in all four quarters for the first time since a 134-123 win over Denver on Feb. 18, 1997.
While Nuggets coach George Karl said his team did not “respect” the Bulls, the Nuggets’ superstars rejected that idea.
Iverson said, “They just beat us. We don’t underestimate anybody.”
And Anthony added: “Respect has nothing to do with this game. They came out shooting 150 percent from the field tonight.”
Well, not quite. But the Bulls certainly won’t complain about shooting 57.1 percent and hitting 11 of 22 3-pointers, even if there were some tense moments in the latter stages. Denver shot 48.3 percent.
“We were hot today,” Gordon said. “There wasn’t much defense being played out there. Both teams were red hot and it was just a fun game to play.”
Chicago led by 23 midway through the third quarter, but instead of a blowout, there was drama.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by J.R. Smith, who scored a career-high 43 points, cut Chicago’s lead to 108-102 four minutes into the fourth quarter. Another 3 by Smith made it 111-107 before Gordon scored 10 points during a 14-3 run to bury the Nuggets.
He scored the first four points of the decisive run, hit back-to-back 3-pointers to make it 123-110, and fed Joakim Noah for a dunk that made it a 15-point game and capped the spurt.
Thomas had 18 points and 11 rebounds, while Noah delivered 14 points and 10 boards. Kirk Hinrich added 16 points and 14 assists.
“I think the most important thing tonight is just being happy in this locker room,” said Noah, who reportedly clashed with Wallace. “We haven’t done that too much this year.”
Smith hit 8 of 14 3-pointers, including 7 of 12 during a 23-point fourth quarter, for a Denver team coming off a 124-118 win over Eastern Conference leader Boston on Tuesday.
Iverson scored 29. Anthony added 22, and Marcus Camby added 19 points and 11 rebounds.
While the Bulls shook up their roster, the Nuggets decided not to emulate some of their Western Conference rivals by making a big trade. They chose the status quo over a deal with Sacramento for Ron Artest despite reportedly strong lobbying efforts by Iverson and Anthony. Denver did send guard Von Wafer to Portland for guard Taurean Green in a minor deal.
“Don’t matter what I think,” Iverson said. “Don’t matter what I lobby for. It’s the organization’s decision to make. I support it to the fullest. I believe in the teammates that I have right now. I still feel we have a chance with this team.”
Anthony called it a “front office decision” and said, “Obviously, they see some good in what we have right now. We’re going to stick with what we’ve got and go for it.”
Hughes and Gooden were not available. … The Bulls held a moment of silence and wore T-shirts honoring the victims of the recent shootings at Northern Illinois University. The school’s basketball teams also attended the game. The also wore the T-shirts during Wednesday’s game at New Jersey. … Hughes isn’t going to miss Cleveland. He said he was relieved to join a new team. “I’m ready for a fresh start,” he said. “It was fun—we won a lot of games, we made it to the finals. I just wasn’t able to be myself. I think here they understand what I do—that’s moving without the ball, slashing, penetrating, making plays.”