CHICAGO (AP) - Injuries. Brutal scheduling. Heavy travel. Nothing seems to faze the Chicago Bulls.
Carlos Boozer scored 17 of his 23 points in the second half to lead the injury-depleted Bulls to a 95-89 win over the struggling Charlotte Bobcats on Saturday night.
Luol Deng added 22 points and eight rebounds as the Bulls won their seventh straight at home and improved to an NBA-best 15-3 despite the absence of two starters and two key reserves.
``We'd like to be healthy, but we do a good job of stepping up when we have guys out,' Boozer said. ``We have a lot of guys that can play on this team. I think we're the deepest team in the league.'
Richard Hamilton added a season-high 20 points for Chicago and is fitting in well during his first season with the Bulls.
``When guys are hurt, they cheer for guys that are out on the floor,' Hamilton said. ``In the NBA, that's hard to find.'
The Bulls played their fourth straight game without reigning NBA MVP Derrick Rose (sprained left big toe). They also were missing starting center Joakim Noah, a late scratch because of a left ankle sprain.
Reserves Taj Gibson (left ankle sprain) and John Lucas III (left groin strain) also sat out, but the Bulls had plenty of firepower left on the roster.
``We have the right guys,' coach Tom Thibodeau said. ``No matter who is out, we have enough to win with. These guys play for each other and they play to win.'
The talk of the locker room after the game was the play veteran guard Mike James, who took Lucas' place as the backup point guard and had nine points and a team-high 10 assists, his most since Dec. 27, 2008.
James was signed by the Bulls on Jan. 11 to add depth to the bench. Chicago is his 10th team in 10 NBA seasons and he thinks he sees something special in his latest squad.
``When you play with a team that really wants to make the extra pass for the next player and there is not a lot of selfishness on the team, you just have to blend in,' James said. ``You can't be the lone wolf and think it's all about you.'
James worked well with Boozer, as Thibodeau called a number of pick-and-rolls for the veteran duo. Boozer is averaging 24 points over his last three games.
``Carlos has been playing at a very high level now for a number of games,' Thibodeau said. ``He's in rhythm, he's walking into his shots, he's got great balance.'
Omer Asik made his first career start in place of Noah and grabbed a game-high 15 rebounds.
C.J. Watson started for Rose at point guard and had 11 points and nine assists. Watson is averaging 16.5 points and six assists in his last four games after missing nine games because of an elbow injury.
Gerald Henderson Jr. led Charlotte with 22 points, but the Bobcats lost their fifth consecutive road game. They have dropped nine of 10 overall.
With the Bobcats coming off three days' rest and facing a shortened Chicago rotation, Charlotte coach Paul Silas expected better.
``Not having all of their players here, I thought we had a legitimate shot tonight,' Silas said. ``But it just didn't turn out that way.'
Byron Mullens added 17 points for the Bobcats.
Charlotte started undersized point guards D.J. Augustin and Kemba Walker together in the backcourt for the fourth straight game, but the quick lineup struggled against Chicago's defense, which leads the league in fewest points allowed per game.
Walker scored just four points, Augustin had three and neither player was on the floor down the stretch.
``Somehow we didn't have the right attitude tonight and it puzzled me,' Silas said. ``We had three days off. I thought we'd really come out with a lot of energy and intensity tonight and we just didn't have it. I don't know what it was.'
The bright spot for Charlotte was Henderson, who is averaging 21.8 points on 32-of-55 shooting in his last four games since moving from shooting guard to small forward.
``We didn't play all that bad,' Henderson said. ``We couldn't get into that lead close enough to where we could compete at the end of the game.'
Deng led a late second-quarter charge and his putback dunk off a missed 3 by Kyle Korver capped an 11-2 Bulls run to end the first half. Chicago led 50-43 at the break.
``That's the value of Lu,' Thibodeau said. ``He really is the glue to our team. There is nothing that he doesn't do well.'
The Bulls pushed their lead to 11 in the third quarter as Boozer scored 15 points and Hamilton added 10, which offset the 13-point period from Henderson. That set up a drama-free finish for a team that James expects to play deep into the postseason.
``You can just feel the vibe and the love because everyone wants to win,' James said. ``It's not just about individual stats. That's a championship locker room, that's a championship team.'
NOTES: The Bulls have won 33 of their last 35 home games. . The Bulls are 7-0 at the United Center for the first time since 1996-97. . Bobcats forward D.J. White left with a bruised left knee during the second quarter and did not return.
The Associated Press News Service
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