Bobcats-Bulls Preview

The Associated Press

Sparked by Carlos Boozer's return and another outstanding defensive effort, the Chicago Bulls continue to roll despite having to move on without a pair of All-Stars.

The Charlotte Bobcats, meanwhile, are simply struggling to remain competitive during their slide.

The resilient Bulls will try to match their longest winning streak of the season at five while dealing the Bobcats their eighth loss in nine games Saturday night in Chicago.

Even though they lost former MVP Derrick Rose to a right knee injury in November and traded two-time All-Star Luol Deng earlier this week, the Bulls (16-18) have seven wins over their best nine-game stretch of the season.

They improved to 2-0 since moving Deng and won their fourth straight by beating Milwaukee 81-72 on the road Friday.

''You guys are into the aesthetics. I'm into the wins,'' coach Tom Thibodeau said when asked about the grind-it-out victory after his team had opened a 15-point lead.

Following a 3-13 stretch in which it surrendered an average of 96.3 points, Chicago has locked down on the defensive end by giving up only 85.3 per game over its last nine.

The 72 points Milwaukee put up Friday were the fewest a Bulls opponent has scored this season. The Bucks shot 31.8 percent, and Chicago hasn't allowed anyone to crack 40.2 during this run.

Boozer led the way offensively with 19 points and 13 rebounds after missing two games due to a sore right knee, while Mike Dunleavy added 18 in his second start in place of Deng.

Although Boozer has grabbed 27 boards in his last two meetings with the Bobcats (15-22), he's totaled just 22 points on 8-of-26 shooting. He had a season-high 17 rebounds in an 86-81 victory at the United Center on Nov. 18.

Chicago held Charlotte to 37 second-half points and 36.3 percent shooting in that win, part of a season-best five-game winning streak with Rose and Deng in the lineup.

Now the Bulls appear to have a good chance to equal that run in this matchup with the Bobcats, who have been blown out by an average of 24.4 points in their four losses in 2014.

Charlotte, which ranks near the bottom of the league with 92.9 points per game, has dropped seven of eight overall following a 119-92 loss at Minnesota on Friday.

''You have to have a team game that's together where everybody knows what your game is, then understand that and they play it," coach Steve Clifford said. "We were doing that three weeks ago. We're not doing that right now."

Anthony Tolliver had a season-high 21 points while hitting all five of his 3-point attempts, Chris Douglas-Roberts chipped in with 16 and Kemba Walker added 15.

Walker, averaging a team-best 18.4 points, finished with eight while missing 11 of 14 shots in the November loss in Chicago.

Charlotte would like to get Al Jefferson going since he's totaled 14 points on 6-of-18 shooting in his last two games. Jefferson had a combined 58 points and made 27 of 41 from the field in his last two visits to the United Center while with Utah, but missed the November meeting with a sprained right ankle.

The Bobcats have been one of the league's top defensive clubs, but they've given up 113.0 points per game and watched opponents shoot 41.4 percent from 3-point range over their last five.

After going 6 for 12 from beyond the arc in the first meeting, Chicago has made 41.8 percent from 3 while winning eight of nine in the series by an average of 14.6 points.

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