On the Chicago Bulls’ last trip to Atlanta, the team spoiled a 19-point lead.Derrick Rose guaranteed that a similar collapse wouldn’t happen again.
So far, he’s made good on his promise.
Coming off a 40-point rout that was their ninth win in 10 games since leaving Philips Arena, Rose and the visiting Bulls try to stay hot Tuesday night against the middling Hawks.
Chicago (50-19) won seven of eight to finish February and pull within two games of Eastern Conference-leading Boston, and on March 2 in Atlanta it appeared to have a chance to get a bit closer.
The Bulls scored the game’s first 14 points and led the Hawks (40-30) by 19 late in the second quarter, but the second half belonged to the home team. Al Horford scored 22 of his career high-tying 31 points after halftime as Atlanta took advantage of six post-intermission turnovers from Rose to rally for an 83-80 win.
“I made some careless passes,” said Rose, who also missed 16 of 21 field-goal attempts. “The game was definitely on me. … But I guarantee it won’t happen again.”
“Careless. Careless. We let one escape for real.”
The Bulls have learned from the loss. They responded by winning their next eight games – including a 94-76 home victory against Atlanta on March 11 in which Rose scored 34 – before Friday’s 115-108 overtime loss at Indiana.
Rose tied a career high with 42 against the Pacers and nearly helped Chicago rally from 20 down, but coach Tom Thibodeau wasn’t pleased after what he called “a step backwards.”
Once again, the Bulls got the message. Chicago shot 61.3 percent Monday and scored its most points in nearly three years, throttling Sacramento 132-92 to stay tied with the Celtics atop the East.
“It’s fun,” Rose said after the Bulls picked up their 50th win for the first time since 1997-98. “I can’t complain about anything right now. We’re winning games, playing good basketball and the city is going crazy.”
While Chicago is fighting for the conference’s No. 1 seed, the Hawks are almost certainly going to finish fifth – and lately they’ve looked like a team with little for which to play.
Atlanta lost four in a row after its comeback against the Bulls – including a dismal 26-point second half while being blown out in the United Center – and then followed consecutive wins with two more ugly losses.
A 106-85 defeat at Miami on Friday prompted Horford to call a players-only meeting, and his teammates seemed to take his message to heart Sunday. The Hawks shot 52.9 percent and put six players in double figures in a 104-96 win over Detroit.
“We just wanted to keep everybody on the same track so we could stay focused with the playoffs coming up,” said Horford, who had a team-high 18 points. “I think it went well.”
Horford figures to have his hands full underneath against Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer, who scored 16 points Tuesday in his return after missing five games with a sprained ankle.
Boozer missed the March 11 victory against Atlanta, but that didn’t stop the Bulls from winning the rebounding battle, 50-28.
Whichever team can hold its own on the boards should prevail Tuesday. Chicago is 41-13 when it outrebounds its opponent, while Atlanta is 28-6.
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