Feb 19, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Carlos Boozer (5) congratulates teammates following the Bulls 96-87 victory against the New Orleans Hornets at the New Orleans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Bulls Grab A Victory Against The Revamped New Orleans Hornets, 96-87.

Well, the Bulls pulled out a victory tonight. And for what feels like the first time in a long time, they deserved it. Let’s not mince words here: Chicago has been slumping. They came into the All-Star break as losers of four of their last five, so starting out the stretch run of the season with a win on the road served as a relief.

The last time these two squads faced off, the Bulls held the Hornets to 33 percent shooting. Neither teams broke 90 points that time, and considering that they’re both in the bottom three in the league in pace, tonight’s final score of 96-87 wasn’t all that big of a surprise.

The Bulls have won nine straight against the Hornets now, but New Orleans is far from being the team they were in November. For starters, Anthony Davis was in a uniform rather than a suit. Their net rating of -3.3 points per 100 possessions isn’t completely reflective of who they are. According to NBA.com’s stats tool, they improved to -0.5 in January, and have crossed the threshold to +2.0 this month. Not to mention, the team’s true shooting percentage for February, at 56.2, is been the best it’s been all year.

Overall, the Hornets are in the bottom five in the league in terms of defensive efficiency. However, the 102.3 mark they’ve been dawning this past month puts them much closer to the middle of the pack. These numbers aren’t exactly staggering, but they show an improvement at the least.

Essentially, New Orleans may be heading for a top five draft pick this year, but they’ve quickly earned a reputation as one of the best bad teams in the league. Anyway, enough of the Hornets.

The Three-Point Battle:
The most staggering statistical discrepancy between Bulls’ losses and wins has been their three point percentage. When they lose, they shoot close to 27 percent from beyond the arc. In wins? A solid 40 percent. Tonight, they nailed five three-pointers at 38.5 percent.

Oh Captain, My Captain:
Seven straight games of watching the Nate Robinson Dribbling Exhibition were more than enough to remind fans why he belongs on the bench. Kirk Hinrich started the game going 0-3 from the field with four assists, but his impact went further than that. Chicago’s nine assists on

Feb 19, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Nate Robinson (2) goes up for a basket in front of New Orleans Hornets forward Jason Smith (behind) during the second half at the New Orleans Arena. Chicago defeated New Orleans 96-87. Mandatory Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

their first 12 field goals were a direct result of Captain Kirk allowing the ball to move. He’d go 2-4 the rest of the way, with a season-high ten assists and a token technical foul.

Who gon’ trade me, huh?
We heard Carlos Boozer’s name plenty of times this weekend, as he was involved in just about every Bulls-related trade rumour. Heading into Thursday’s deadline with a team that will do just about anything short of amputating Tom Thibodeau’s arm to stay under the tax, this was to be expected. What I didn’t expect was a legitimate response. I couldn’t count how many times Eric Gordon burned him, but his 17 points and 10 rebounds was well-earned. By the way, here’s reason number 1,576 the Bulls shouldn’t trade him for Andrea Bargnani. Going up against Al-Farouq Aminu in the third quarter, Boozer screamed “OHHHH HE GRABBED MY WHOLE SHIRT HE GRABBED MY WHOLE SHIRT!” There’s a degree of entertainment provided by Carlos that Bargs just wouldn’t be able to reproduce. He finished the night with a 0 rating on the +/- scale, which is actually a pleasant surprise at this point.

Return of the Man:
“The man” has been a popularized phrase throughout contemporary pop culture. Generally, it refers to the overarching, controlling establishment. In sports, it’s a title given to only the greatest of players. The man is cold-blooded. The man is a leader. The man wins. Tonight, the man returned to his former stomping grounds. Marco Belinelli drained his first shot of the game, and followed it up with a three-pointer. Marco came in with an insatiable swagger. He would leave with nine points and four assists.

The defense started off strong tonight, aside from Boozer getting eaten out in the paint by Eric Gordon. Starting off 6-0, the Bulls were clearly feeling revamped after some much-needed rest. Gordon wore them down though, and the score was 15-10 when Gibson checked in for ‘los. Things not-so-unpredictably turned around from there. Chicago finished the first quarter leading 26 to 21.

Stat of the night:
The Hornets completed just one of their four attempted alley-oops tonight. Two of those attempts would be in the first quarter.

After Joakim Noah picked up two fouls, Nazr Mohammed checked in and nailed two straight jumpers, providing an unexpected boost for Chicago. Nate Robinson decided things were going too well, though, and dribbled 22 seconds off the shot clock before missing a layup on the next possession.

The Official Kirk Hinrich/Jimmy Butler Alert:
In limited minutes, Hinrich and Butler have played very well together. Why is this important? Well, Butler emerged as a threat following Kirk’s injury, so this will be their first chance to really gel. It’s going to be interesting to see if these small sample-size numbers can be sustained. Moreover, if Derrick Rose actually comes back this season, a bench trio of Hinrich, Butler, and Taj Gibson could almost evoke the glory of the late 2011-2012 Chicago Bulls Bench Mob.

Feb 19, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich (12) collides with New Orleans Hornets guard Greivis Vasquez (21) during the first quarter at the New Orleans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

Unfortunately, when the duo united at the 2:30 mark of the second quarter, their time together was inconsequential.

Heading into the second half, the Bulls led by just four. Boozer continued his “please don’t exile me to Canada” performance, opening with an and-1. Helmed by Kirk’s passing, Chicago built its largest lead of the game at ten. Unfortunately, he and Noah would pick up two quick personal fouls, including a tech. Taj decided he wanted in on the trend, so he fouled Ryan Anderson when he was shooting a three-pointer. The Hornets were down six before the final quarter commenced.

Hornets rookie Brian Roberts nailed two straight jumpers, including one three, getting the Hornets within one point. Robinson, finally doing something of value, got the Bulls a quick four points before cooler heads prevailed and Kirk checked back in.

The Official Kirk Hinrich/Jimmy Butler Alert, part 2:
With six minutes left to go in the game, Thibodeau sent in the A-team… and, well, Carlos Boozer. Here we go:

First possession: The Hornets force the Bulls to run down the shot-clock, and a desperation reverse lay-up by Jimmy Butler gets blocked. Not exactly the greatest start.  Next, the Bulls get a steal, turn it over on the break, get another steal and Boozer hooks Deng up with a lay up. Following this, Carlos Boozer would airball an isolation jumper. He then went on to let Eric Gordon embarrass him again. But hooray! He hit his next jumper. Chicago managed to get another steal in half court, which would eventually turn into a basket by Noah. With the Bulls up 10 and just two minutes left to go in the game, Eric Gordon relented and made it a five point game. However, he’d get forced into a turnover by the incendiary Jimmy Butler.

Joakim Noah/Luol Deng Minute Tracker:
It would appear that Noah saved himself tonight by picking up too many early fouls. However, Thibodeau still managed to keep him out there for 38 minutes. Deng on the other hand, played just 34 (thanks, Jimmy!). In relatively limited minutes, he was Chicago’s top performer, scoring 20 points. Noah added 15 points and a monstrous 17 rebounds to go with five assists. Business as usual, for the most part.

Check out the main site shortly for tonights post-game podcast, featuring Pippen Ain’t Easy’s very own Caleb Nordgren and myself.

The Bulls are taking on the Miami Heat this Thursday on TNT, a game in which many fans thought Derrick Rose would return. While that probably won’t be the case, a Bulls-Heat matchup is never boring. Be sure to tune in, and visit Pippen Ain’t Easy after the game for full coverage and analysis.

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