The Chicago Bulls are confident they can succeed while Derrick Rose recovers from a knee injury. With or without their superstar, the Bulls have fared extremely well against the Cleveland Cavaliers of late.
Looking to start 2-0 for the first time since 2002, the Bulls try to extend their winning streak over the Cavaliers to eight Friday night.
Joakim Noah had 23 points with 10 rebounds, Richard Hamilton scored 19 and Carlos Boozer added 18 in Chicago's 93-87 home win over Sacramento on Wednesday.
"It's one game out of 82," said Noah, who posted the third-highest scoring game of his career. "Good start. But we have a lot of basketball to be played."
Chicago went 18-9 in games Rose missed last season en route to earning the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. However, things came crashing down in the opening round against Philadelphia when Rose tore his ACL. The Bulls were eliminated by the 76ers, and Rose is not expected to return until the second half of this season.
Despite missing their star, the Bulls believe they can be better than average. Back with the team that drafted him in 2003, Kirk Hinrich shot 1 of 7 from the field to finish with three points but had seven assists and provided a stable presence running the point in place of Rose on Wednesday.
Though the Bulls shot 41.8 percent and turned the ball over 18 times, they held the Kings to 40.5 percent shooting and forced 19 turnovers. After allowing a league-low 88.2 points per game last season, Chicago again expects to be one of the NBA's top defensive, and most complete, teams.
"We're not going to change our style of play," said coach Tom Thibodeau, whose team plays six of its first seven at home. "That has to be consistent. It has to start with our defense and rebounding, taking care of the ball, playing inside-out and sharing the ball."
The Bulls have been able to do all of that during a seven-game winning streak against the Cavaliers that began once LeBron James left for Miami after the 2009-10 season. The Bulls put up 111.0 points per contest while beating the Cavaliers by an average margin of 30.7 in three meetings last season - two without Rose.
Boozer has averaged 18.7 points and 12.0 boards in his last three games at Cleveland, where his NBA career began.
Reigning Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving scored 13 points in his only previous game versus Chicago, a 114-75 home loss Jan. 20. His season opener Tuesday was significantly better, scoring 29 points in a 94-84 win over Washington.
Anderson Varejao set career highs with 23 rebounds and nine assists while adding nine points. It marked his return to an NBA court after missing the final 41 games last season with a broken wrist.
"It's the greatest feeling in the world just having somebody that you know what you're going to get from them every single night," Irving said. "He almost had a triple-double, that's typical Andy."
Irving also has an exciting backcourt mate in rookie Dion Waiters. The fourth overall pick did not start a single game in two seasons at Syracuse, but did Tuesday and finished with 17 points.
"Dion is starting to understand what we're doing," coach Byron Scott said. "I thought he did a good job."
Cleveland has not started 2-0 since the 2006-07 season.