With Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson playing extremely well, the Chicago Bulls are on the verge of going two games above .500 for the first time in more than three months.
Now their frontcourt could be getting even better with Carlos Boozer expected to return when the Bulls go for their fourth win in five games Thursday night against the visiting Brooklyn Nets.
Noah finished with 19 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists for his fourth career triple-double Tuesday against Atlanta, while Gibson contributed a game-high 24 points and 12 boards in a 100-85 home win.
Although Chicago (26-25) ranks near the bottom of the league with a 42.4 field-goal percentage, the team shot 50.6 percent and outrebounded the Hawks 57-28 while avoiding its third straight home defeat.
Since Noah was ejected in a loss at Sacramento on Feb. 3, he's bounced back strong with 15.0 points, 13.3 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game over his last four.
The All-Star center also has played well against the Nets (24-26), averaging 14.8 points and 10.8 boards in his last five meetings - including last season's first-round playoff series that Chicago took in seven games.
'I think the big thing is he's healthy. He's gotten into rhythm,' coach Tom Thibodeau said. 'I think missing training camp set him back offensively. Defensively he's been terrific all year.'
Gibson has provided opponents with another difficult matchup, averaging 22.7 points and 10.3 rebounds while starting the past three games. According to Thibodeau, the fifth-year forward is headed back to the bench with Boozer - averaging a team-high 14.8 points - set to return from a left calf strain.
Gibson played well in that role in the first meeting with 20 points and eight rebounds in a 95-78 win in Brooklyn on Dec. 25.
The Bulls will try to head into the All-Star break two games over .500 for the first time since Nov. 21, though that could be a difficult task against a Brooklyn team seeking its fifth win in six games.
While Chicago limited the Nets to a season-low 35.2 percent shooting in the first matchup, Brooklyn has shot 51.4 percent from the field in back-to-back victories heading into this matchup.
Paul Pierce led five players in double figures with 25 points while making 9 of 11 shots - including all five 3-point attempts - in a 105-89 win over visiting Charlotte on Wednesday.
'A veteran ballclub understands that the games right before the break are important because you're planning vacations, or planning to go to All-Star weekend, and sometimes the game becomes secondary,' coach Jason Kidd said. 'A lot of the guys, for the most part, didn't play a lot of minutes, so we'll see what happens (in Chicago)."
Pierce had totaled 25 points over his previous three games, and has averaged 9.0 points on 8-of-37 (21.6 percent) shooting in his last three versus the Bulls dating to his time with Boston.
Deron Williams has scored just 10.7 per game in his last three overall, but the point guard has averaged 22.8 points and hit 14 of 30 from beyond the arc in his past five - including last postseason - against Chicago.
Brooklyn has played well defensively, limiting opponents to 170 points on 38.8 percent shooting in winning its last two games. It could continue that trend against the Bulls, who rank near the bottom of the NBA with 92.3 points per game.
The Nets, 14-5 in 2014, have lost 12 of their last 15 regular-season trips to Chicago.
The Associated Press News Service
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