NEW ORLEANS -- Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau stated emphatically what the Bulls needed to do Tuesday night to bounce back from the two-game slide they had experienced just before the All-Star break -- play with more intensity.
His players got the memo.
Forward Luol Deng scored 20 points, forward Carlos Boozer added 17 points and 10 rebounds and center Joakim Noah had 15 points and 17 boards to muscle the Bulls to a 96-87 victory over the New Orleans Hornets at the New Orleans Arena.
The Bulls (31-22) saw a 12-point third-quarter lead nearly evaporate in the final period. They led just 78-77 with 9:08 left, but that's when Noah seemingly grabbed every rebound and the Bulls forced the Hornets (19-35) into nine turnovers, including one stretch of seven turnovers in 12 possessions.
"I thought our level of intensity was very good," Thibodeau said. "Joakim was everywhere with his multiple-effort plays. That probably was one of his best screening games. That's what we expect from him and that's what we need from him as the leader of this team."
Nate Robinson knifed into the lane on a defensive lapse by the Hornets for an easy layup that put Chicago up 80-77 with 8:41 left. Then Hornets rookie guard Brian Roberts committed back-to-back turnovers against the Bulls' pressure defense, and Chicago ran off six of the next eight points to pull ahead 86-79.
The last basket was another effort play by Noah -- a tip-in of Jimmy Butler's missed 3-point attempt after he snaked his way into position for the rebound.
"That was nice," Noah said of his tip-in. "I was just trying to get to the ball and put it in the hole. I think we played with the right edge. We practiced with a great mindset yesterday, and we practiced hard today. Everybody's excited about the second half of the season."
The Bulls looked rejuvenated from the All-Star break. They held a 47-39 rebounding edge on the Hornets, and they pressured NBA 3-point leader Ryan Anderson into a poor shooting night (2 of 11 overall and 0 of 4 from 3-point range).
Eric Gordon led the Hornets with 20 points, but he had three of his team-high four turnovers in the final five minutes.
"We had about four or five possessions where we couldn't even get a shot off after cutting it to one," said Hornets coach Monty Williams. "You'd think that on your home court you'd have a chance to take the lead and get some momentum, and we just kind of gave in to their pressure."
Chicago led 86-80 with 5:30 left, but Boozer stole the ball from Al-Farouq Aminu and fed Deng for a dunk. The Bulls widened their lead to 92-82 with 2:47 left.
Even though he made only 2 of 7 from the floor, point guard Kirk Hinrich returned from a seven-game absence due to an infection in his right elbow to lead the Bulls with 10 assists, and he added three steals. The Bulls had 30 assists on 39 made baskets.
"The ball was hopping," Thibodeau said.
"Kirk played huge for us," Noah said. "He does a lot of stuff that doesn't show up in the stat sheet. He just brings a whole different dimension with his defensive intensity and his feel for the game."
Hornets forward Jason Smith said Chicago's 14 offensive rebounds, which led to a 15-6 edge on second-chance points, was the decisive factor in the game. Anthony Davis' 15 points and 10 rebounds weren't enough for the Hornets.
"They played more physical than us," Smith said. "Hinrich played amazing defense."
NOTES: Tom Thibodeau said Chicago's two-game losing streak (to San Antonio and Boston) before the All-Star break was rooted in a lack of intensity. "If that dips just a little bit, it doesn't allow you to execute at the highest possible level," Thibodeau said. "The big thing is there were a lot of shortcuts, both on offense and defense. We're holding on to the ball. The turnovers (41 in two games) hurt us. We're being unselfish, but we're making the wrong plays -- trying to thread the needle and ending up breaking things off too early. In order to execute the proper way and sustain your spacing and get to the second and third option, you can't take shortcuts." ... Eric Gordon returned to the lineup after missing a 99-63 victory over Portland with a sprained right hand. "He looked pretty good in practice, and that was an indicator that the days off helped him," coach Monty Williams said. ... Williams said the Bulls are such a good rebounding and defensive team, they will be dangerous when Derrick Rose returns from his ACL injury. "That's a team that's built for the playoffs," Williams said. "When they get Rose back, they're going to be a complete team again." ... Joakim Noah said he can't wait for Rose to return. He practiced in five-on-five drills with the Bulls on Monday, but the Bulls have not set a date for his return. "We feel like we need everybody healthy to get to where we want to go," Noah said.