CHICAGO--For a man who won two NCAA tournament championships at Florida, once derisively called the Heat "Hollywood as Hell" and pours sweat and primal screams into every affair, Joakim Noah's answer sounded a bit surprising.
Asked if the Chicago Bulls need to win a championship to make this season successful, Noah shook his head.
"Not at all," he said. "That's always the ultimate goal and there's nothing more than I want than to win a championship. Right now, it's about building the right habits, playing in those big games."
Given Derrick Rose's season-ending knee injury, Noah's realism is refreshing. And his message -- build championship habits at all times -- is instructive.
Dressing just nine players again, the Bulls provided another example of perseverance and perspective with Tuesday night's 100-85 blowout of the Atlanta Hawks at the United Center.
Noah certainly played as if a title were at stake, building some right habits with his fourth career triple-double and first this season. Noah actually almost achieved the milestone by halftime and finished with 19 points, 16 rebounds and a career-high-tying 11 assists.
"Jo was unbelievable," coach Tom Thibodeau said.
Often, the first home game after an extended trip can be problematical. But in their first United Center appearance since Jan. 27, the Bulls got off to their third straight strong start. They led by 18 points in the first quarter and 25 at their largest point.
"Usually when you come back from a trip like that, you exhale," Noah said. "Nobody exhaled. We're not worried about distractions or what anybody has to say. We're just focused on our improvement."
With Carlos Boozer sitting for a third straight game with his strained left calf, Taj Gibson posted 24 points and 12 rebounds. Gibson had averaged 18.6 points and 9.4 rebounds in his seven previous starts.
"My teammates are looking for me," said Gibson, who has seven 20-point games this season.
Jimmy Butler joined Noah and Gibson in double-double land and all five starters plus D.J. Augustin off the bench scored in double figures. Thirty of the Bulls' 43 field goals were assisted.
"I thought the first quarter was great," Thibodeau said. "We had a lot of energy at both ends. We had good pace and were making quick decisions."
With the victory, the Bulls passed the Hawks by a half-game in the Eastern Conference standings. They enjoyed a ridiculous 57-28 rebounding advantage.
Noah joined Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Tom Boerwinkle and Mickey Johnson as the fifth player in franchise history with at least four triple-doubles. He also provided free fast-food sandwiches for the sellout crowd of 21,325 by sinking two free throws with 38.5 seconds left to hit the century mark, punctuating the moment with a huge fist pump.
"Tough free throws for the Big Macs," Noah said. "I could definitely feel (pressure). But we played some of our best basketball of the year. We just can't be satisfied."
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