Bulls-Hawks Preview

The Associated Press

When Chicago and Atlanta met three weeks ago, the Bulls put together one of the best defensive performances in franchise history.

Duplicating that showing could be difficult.

Possibly playing short-handed for a second straight day, the Bulls try to bounce back from a tough loss when they visit the Hawks on Saturday night.

Chicago (28-18) used only eight players for Friday's game in Brooklyn as All-Star Joakim Noah (foot) and fellow starters Carlos Boozer (hamstring) and Kirk Hinrich (right elbow) were sidelined. The Bulls, however, have played the entire season without Derrick Rose and have been giving opponents fits.

Friday's game was no different, as the Central Division leaders led 67-63 through three quarters before seeming to tire down the stretch in a 93-89 loss, just their third defeat in 11 games.

"This is good for our team," Taj Gibson said. "It's all for the better come playoff time when we get everybody back and we're fully healthy, we feel like we've got a shot of winning the East.''

While Boozer missed his second straight game and his status for Saturday is uncertain, Hinrich will almost certainly be out since he returned to Chicago and Noah didn't sound too optimistic about returning.

"I know it's hard to come back from, but I'm on it a lot earlier than I was last time,'' said Noah, who missed 18 games with plantar fasciitis during the 2009-10 season.

The absence of Noah and Boozer, two of the league's top rebounders at 11.3 and 9.7 per game, respectively, was evident as Brooklyn outrebounded Chicago 40-29. It was the Bulls' fewest boards since grabbing 21 against Orlando on Dec. 1, 2010.

With a thin bench, Gibson (16 points) played all 48 minutes, Luol Deng (18 points) played all but four seconds and Nate Robinson (12 points, 11 assists) played 41. While Deng averages an NBA-high 40 minutes, Gibson averages 21 and Robinson is at 22.

This seems like it could spell trouble against a Hawks team that should be well rested having been off since Wednesday's 93-92 victory over Toronto.

Al Horford had the go-ahead dunk with 21 seconds remaining and blocked two shots in the closing seconds to help Atlanta (26-19) win for the fourth time in five games.

Horford finished with 22 points, Josh Smith scored 20 and former Bull Kyle Korver added 17 while making five 3-pointers. Atlanta is 14-4 when Korver scores at least 13, compared to 9-13 when he doesn't.

While getting scoring from Korver is valuable, the offense goes through Horford and Smith - and both are playing well. Horford is averaging 22.5 points on 63.8 percent shooting in his last four games and Smith is averaging 21.8 in his last four - 5.0 better than his team-leading average.

Not surprisingly, the Hawks, who average 96.7 points on the season, are at 105.6 in their last five games.

They were nowhere near as productive offensively in Chicago on Jan. 14.

The Bulls won 97-58 while holding the Hawks to a franchise-low 20 first-half points - five in the second quarter - and also set a club record for fewest points allowed in a game while limiting Atlanta to 29.3 percent shooting. Reserve forward Mike Scott led Atlanta with 10 points as none of the starters reached double figures. Jeff Teague's layup with 7.9 seconds left prevented the Hawks from the lowest-scoring total in franchise history.

The last meeting in Atlanta was a different story, however, as the Hawks cruised to a 92-75 victory on Dec. 22. They outscored the Bulls 36-16 in the second quarter and Deng (11 points) and Noah (10) were the only two Chicago players in double figures.

The Bulls have still won six of the last eight regular-season meetings.