Derrick Rose can afford to take a night or two off with the way the Chicago Bulls are playing — especially when the opponent is the worst team in the NBA.
Joakim Noah had 17 points and 14 rebounds, Carlos Boozer scored 16 points and the Bulls throttled the Charlotte Bobcats 95-64 Friday night despite the absence of their leading scorer and reigning league MVP.
The Bulls (23-6) won their fifth straight overall and improved to 5-1 this season without Rose, who sat out because of a lower back strain.
"Our depth is our greatest strength right now," Noah said. "Obviously we know that we need everybody healthy (come playoffs). This is definitely not a sprint, it's a marathon."
C.J. Watson started in Rose's place and played a near flawless game with seven points, five assists, four steals and no turnovers.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said he likes what Watson brings to the table.
"C.J. was terrific in the playoffs and he had a very difficult job last year," Thibodeau said. "He was deserving of more minutes than he got but he handled short minutes great. He's done a great job with the second unit but he's shown that he can play with the first unit. He gives us multiple pick-and-rolls and also adds to our shooting, which I thought was a big concern. He gives us another 3-point shooter on the floor so we need to take advantage of that."
And he's quickly earned the respect of his teammates.
"He's stepped up every time we needed him to," Boozer said of Watson. "He's played great. C.J. could start for almost every other team in the NBA that doesn't have a starting point guard. We're very lucky to have him, to say the least."
Rose injured his back earlier in the week and was limited in a 90-67 win over New Orleans on Wednesday. Thibodeau said Rose would be a game-time decision against the Bobcats and decided to hold him out after watching him in warm-ups.
Clearly the Bulls didn't need him.
All-Star selection Luol Deng scored 10 of his 12 points in the first quarter, including a pair of key 3-pointers as the Bulls jumped out to a 30-16 lead. They were never challenged after that.
The Bulls extended the lead to 22 at halftime before pouring it on in the third quarter, pounding the ball inside to Noah and Boozer, who seemingly scored at will against a Bobcats frontcourt lacking in size and experience. That's been a persistent problem all season for the Bobcats since they allowed center Kwame Brown to leave via free agency.
Noah was dominant inside, hitting 7 of 9 shots as the Bulls' lead hovered around 30 for most of the second half.
Noah said the key for the Bulls has been playing fast and not giving defenses enough time to react and rotate.
"We're playing very well," Noah said. "We play off Booze(r) a lot and he demands a lot of attention. He either scores or kicks it out and that creates a lot of opportunities for everyone else."
John Lucas III added 11 points and Omer Asik had 12 rebounds for the Bulls.
"We do a great job of sharing the ball," Boozer said. "We still want to go inside out. We do a great job of making the extra pass on offense. Defensively we're still very sharp and getting better at our defensive scheme and still doing a great job of helping each other. We're a help-side defensive team and I think we're getting better and better at our system."
Charlotte posed no threat while dropping its 13th straight game.
Derrick Brown scored 10 points to lead the NBA-worst Bobcats, who shot 33 percent from the field and hit only 1 of 8 from 3-point range to fall to 3-23. Brown was the only Bobcats player to finish in double figures.
Corey Maggette returned to action after missing the last 19 games with a strained hamstring and had four points on 2-of-7 shooting in 14 minutes.
Prior to the game, Bobcats coach Paul Silas called the Bulls the most talented team in the league and they certainly left no doubt about this one early on.
The Bobcats even struggled from the free throw line with both Gana Diop and Bismack Biyombo shooting air balls from the stripe, drawing a mixture of chuckles and head-shaking disgust from the home crowd.
"It's just embarrassing," guard Kemba Walker said of the losing streak.
"We didn't have the aggressiveness rebounding the ball," Silas said. "We weren't really doing much at all. You have to give them credit. Defensively they really keep you on one side if they can. You've got to move the basketball. We held it too long. We got to move the basketball."
The Bobcats turned the ball over 16 times resulting in 27 points for the Bulls.
"We just threw the ball away with no real focus, you know, no concentration," Silas said. "It's really hard to explain. I really can't explain why because we go through our offense daily."