Bulls-Hawks Preview

The Associated Press

After beating the team with the NBA's best home record on its own floor, the Chicago Bulls continue to be one of the league's biggest surprises.

The Atlanta Hawks were also one of the teams in that discussion, but a recent slide has them searching for answers.

Playing without their starting backcourt hasn't seemed to bother the Bulls, who seek their sixth win in seven road games on Saturday night when they visit the Hawks.

Chicago (15-10) looks to sweep back-to-back road contests after building a 25-point lead in a 110-106 win at New York on Friday night, handing the Knicks only their second home loss.

"You get a 25-point lead on the road against a team like this, you're doing a lot of good things,'' coach Tom Thibodeau said.

Chicago has been doing many good things without star guard Derrick Rose. After stumbling to a 6-7 start, the Bulls have won nine of 12.

Forward Luol Deng had season highs with 29 points and 13 rebounds against the Knicks.

The team's leading scorer, however, appeared to hurt his left shoulder in the third quarter when Jason Kidd reached in on him. The Bulls are likely to keep an eye on how the shoulder responds early Saturday.

Center Joakim Noah added 15 points and 12 rebounds before getting ejected in the fourth quarter after a scuffle with Knicks center Tyson Chandler.

"(Things) were definitely escalating, but I don't think they're used to being down that much, too,'' Noah said.

Noah, who isn't expected to receive a suspension for the altercation, has played a major role in the team's success. He's averaging 15.0 points, 12.0 rebounds and 5.4 assists in his last eight games, posting five double-doubles and one triple-double.

Guard Marco Belinelli has filled in nicely for injured starter Richard Hamilton, averaging 16.5 points and shooting 41.9 percent (18 for 43) from 3-point range in 10 starts after scoring 22 on Friday.

Chicago will try to reach 100 points in three straight games for the first time since March of last season against an Atlanta team that has allowed an average of 102.3 over its last four games.

The Hawks (15-9), who rank in the top 10 in the NBA in scoring defense, had given up 93.1 points per game in their first 20 contests.

After winning 11 of 13, Atlanta lost its third in four games on Friday night in a 99-80 loss at Philadelphia.

"Offensively and defensively, we didn't do anything right," guard Lou Williams told the league's official website.

The Hawks haven't done a lot right lately. Their last three defeats have come by an average of 16.4 points, with their only win in the last four coming in overtime at league-worst Washington.

Forward Josh Smith has scored 17 points in three consecutive contests while adding 10.3 rebounds per game.

Smith averaged 19.0 points and 9.5 rebounds in four meetings against the Bulls last season, including a 25-point effort in Atlanta's 109-94 win in January.

Center Al Horford, though, looks to break out of his slump after totaling 25 points on 9 for 35 (25.7 percent) shooting in his last three games.

While the Hawks shot below 40.0 percent only once in its first 20 games, they've done it in three of four after being held to 39.2 percent at Philadelphia.

It doesn't figure to get any easier against the Bulls, who have held opponents to a league-low 41.0 percent in December.

Chicago has won five of the last six meetings after taking three of four last season. The Bulls, however, had Rose in all but one of those games.