There is no question that Thursday night was the best game that the Bulls played all season so far. After being embarrassed by the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James in the season's first three meeting -- being outscored 330-282 with James averaging 34.3 points per game and picking up a triple-double -- the Bulls came out and played one of their most complete games of the season. They frustrated LeBron all night in what he said afterwards was his worst game of the season -- if 28 points, 14 rebounds, and 7 assists is his worst game I think the kid's gonna be all right -- and absolutely took control of the game in overtime to get the victory.
It's probably not a coincidence that the Bulls best game happened in the third game they'd played since getting Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng back. In their three games back on the court Deng has averaged 17.3 points and 9.0 rebounds a game, while Hinrich is scoring only 9.3 points with 4.7 assists, but in his defense, he was out a lot longer than Deng and will need time to find his shooting touch. Still, his defense alone has been more than enough considering he may be the only member of the team who plays it. Hinrich had a plus/minus of +24 in only 30 minutes on Thursday night which shows you how valuable he can be as a scorer and defender.
Now with Deng seemingly starting to find his shooting stroke again, the Bulls have somebody else they can give the ball to besides Derrick Rose and Drew Gooden -- when healthy -- and with Hinrich, they may have finally solved their backcourt logjam. It's apparent to everyone that Larry Hughes is going to be traded before the deadline, and now you have to wonder if the Bulls may be better off not only for the future, but for this year by trading Ben Gordon as well.
Neither player gives the team anything on defense, which is their real need at the moment, and while Hughes will probably not bring anything back but a role player with a big contract -- something the Bulls could use as long as he's not a guard and can play defense -- Gordon could be used to find acquire some real talent. For a while it seemed that Hinrich would be John Paxson's most valuable trade chip of his guards, but now that he's back it's become apparent that he's too valuable to the team to trade, even if he is ridiculously overpaid for his production.
Now none of this means that the Bulls are anything more than a #7 or #8 seed at best in the Eastern Conference, but there's a lot more reason to be optimistic about the team with a healthy Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich than there was last week.