CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau talked before the game about his team needing to play with an edge.
They did just that Wednesday night, thumping the dreadful Charlotte Bobcats 100-68 in a solid tune-up before Thursday night's big showdown in Miami with the Heat.
Richard Hamilton scored 22 points in just 24 minutes and the Bulls took a step closer to wrapping up the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Despite playing without leading scorers Derrick Rose and Luol Deng, the Bulls shot 48 percent from the floor and connected on 9 of 19 shots from 3-point range to bounce back from Tuesday night's surprising 87-84 loss to the Washington Wizards.
Hamilton made his first seven shots from the field, including four from beyond the arc and the outcome was never in doubt.
``We had a bad loss against Washington and we talked about getting back to playing how we play and that's rebounding, playing defense and trying to share the basketball,' Hamilton said.
The Bulls did all of that against Charlotte.
They held the Bobcats to 30 percent shooting, outrebounded them 57-38 and had 29 assists.
The Bulls had struggled of late losing four of their last eight coming in, but they still have the NBA's best record at 47-15 with four games remaining in the regular season.
They remain 2 1/2 games ahead of the Heat in the East.
``We just want to get out there and hopefully get a win,' Hamilton said. ``Miami has a lot of special players. It won't be easy.'
Deng, who has been bothered by a rib injury, said after the game he expects to be ready to play against Miami. Rose's status remains day-to-day with a right foot injury.
Thibodeau likes the way his team regrouped from the loss to Washington.
``Usually, this team responds,' Thibodeau said.
There was plenty of reason to be happy.
His starters were terrific and the reserves didn't play bad either, accounting for 42 points.
``Everyone was sharing the ball,' Thibodeau said. ``So the ball was hopping and they were making the right plays. Defensively was very good. Rebounding was very good. And then the most important thing was the low turnovers.'
Omer Asik had nine points and 15 rebounds for the Bulls, while Joakim Noah and John Lucas each scored 12 points.
The Bulls shot 55 percent in the first half and led by 19 in the second quarter.
They extended the lead to 24 in the third behind 10 points from Hamilton. Hamilton seemed to take the Bulls on his shoulders at times, finishing the night 9 for 13 from the field, including 4 for 5 on 3s.
He said he's getting closer to 100 percent.
``Each and every game I get better and that's a good thing,' Hamilton said. ``When I first came back the problem wasn't getting shots that I wanted to get it was just being able to get in a rhythm and get a feel for the game again. I'm definitely pleased with that's going on.'
Charlotte continued to struggle putting the ball in the basket. For the second straight game they shot just 30 percent from the field.
``That's been our problem all year,' said Bobcats coach Paul Silas.
Rookie Kemba Walker scored 16 points for the Bobcats, who've lost a franchise-record 18 straight games.
Charlotte continues its march toward NBA futility. If the Bobcats lose their final five games they'll finish with the worst winning percentage in NBA history.
``We don't want to set that record,' Bobcats guard Gerald Henderson said. ``That's something that we're thinking about and we've talked about. We just want to win. That's my sole goal. We've set goals for ourselves at the start of the season and haven't accomplished hardly any of them. But with these last five games, that's one that we've set and we want to accomplish that one.'
The Bobcats' night, and perhaps the season, could be best summed up in one embarrassing play.
In the first half Matt Carroll had a breakaway layup but put if off the glass too strong and Byron Mullens, who seemed to be in position for a follow-up dunk, had the ball bounce off his hands and out of bounds for a turnover.
The crowed let out a collective ``Ugh!' as Carroll clapped his hands together in disbelief and glanced toward the heavens.
NOTES: Tyrus Thomas, who was involved in a postgame locker room altercation with coach Paul Silas earlier this week, left the game with a sore right knee. He spent most of the first half riding a stationary bike trying to get it loose and only played three minutes. ... Charlotte's last win came on March 17. ... The Bobcats tied a season low with six turnovers. ... Chicago's 57 rebounds tied the most allowed by the Bobcats this season.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved