Derrick Rose has played himself to the front of the NBA’s MVP race so far this season. Most teams have tried and failed to slow down the Chicago Bulls’ third year point guard.
An exception is the Charlotte Bobcats, who are making a habit of giving fits to playoff contenders.
Rose and the Central Division-leading Bulls seek to avoid their third loss to the Bobcats in as many meetings Tuesday night at the United Center.
The Bulls (36-16) are an Eastern Conference-best 13-4 since Jan. 8, but two of those losses have come against the Bobcats (24-31). In losing to Charlotte, Chicago has plenty of company among the NBA’s elite.
The Bobcats have won three of five, with the wins all coming against top contenders. They beat East-leading Boston on Feb. 7, won at Atlanta on Saturday, and rolled past the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers 109-89 at home Monday.
Gerald Wallace had a team-high 20 points while Gerald Henderson added 18 off the bench Monday for Charlotte, which shot 51.2 percent and led by as many as 28 en route to its most lopsided victory of the season.
“This is probably the biggest, monumental win for the Bobcats and probably the biggest loss for them,” interim coach Paul Silas said. “It was huge.”
The Bobcats’ two victories over the Bulls last month were also big. They won 96-91 in Charlotte on Jan. 12, then prevailed 83-82 six days later at Chicago.
The Bulls have won five straight at the United Center since, improving their home record to a conference-best 23-4.
Chicago returns home after a 3-2 road trip, highlighted by impressive wins over Utah and New Orleans. Rose had 23 points and held West All-Star starter Chris Paul in check in Saturday’s 97-88 victory over the Hornets. Three nights earlier, Rose scored 29 in a matchup against Deron Williams in a 91-86 win over the Jazz.
“Every night, there’s a good point guard in front of him and he’s been geared up to play every one of them,” teammate Carlos Boozer said of Rose. “He carries us offensively, and on the defensive end he locks up as well. He’s a monster, man. And I keep telling people, when it’s all said and done – he’s 22 – he’s going to be the best one.”
Rose was outplayed by D.J. Augustin in the first meeting with the Bobcats, as the Charlotte guard had 22 points and 12 assists. Rose finished with 17 points – 7.7 fewer than his team-leading average – and missed 12 of 17 shots, while Boozer had 28 points and had 13 rebounds.
Rose played much better in the rematch, scoring 33 points, but missed a potential game-winning shot at the buzzer. He also had to make do without Boozer, who sat out with a sprained ankle.
That matchup in Chicago was the only loss for the Bulls this season when allowing 95 points or fewer. They have won 31 such contests.
Although the Bobcats have proven they can beat the Bulls, they could have trouble this time considering they’re 4-12 in the second games of back-to-backs.
Charlotte’s Stephen Jackson struggled Monday, finishing with nine points after averaging 26.7 in his previous three games. He could have trouble bouncing back against the Bulls, who have limited him to an average of 14.0 points on 35.5-percent shooting in the season series.
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