Intensity returns for Bulls after break

NEW ORLEANS -- As the Chicago Bulls got set to open up the second half of the season Tuesday night, coach Tom Thibodeau's main message was simple: Play with more intensity.

After grinding out a 96-87 victory over the New Orleans Hornets, the Bulls, who had lost four of their past five coming in, delivered for their coach.

"I thought the level of intensity was very good," Thibodeau said. "I loved the pace to start the game. I thought our defense was solid. The ball was hoppin', making quick decisions, not shortcutting things, making the extra pass, setting good screens, I thought overall it was very good. Joakim (Noah) was everywhere, multiple effort plays and that was probably one of his best screening games since I've been here."

Noah set the tone and led the way with 15 points, 17 rebounds and five assists. Thibodeau chided the media before the game while discussing Noah comments after Sunday night's All-Star Game in which he said that he hadn't slept in three days after enjoying his time in Houston. Thibodeau never doubted that Noah would come back in the second half of the season and play well.

"I think we played with the right edge," said Noah, whose Bulls lost to the Hornets on Nov. 3. "I feel like in that game they played harder than us and we feel like we played harder tonight."

That feeling was shared in both locker rooms.

"They're a really good team," Hornets coach Monty Williams said. "I thought they were physically tougher than we were tonight."

It's not a coincidence that the toughness and intensity Thibodeau has been searching for appeared to return with veteran guard Kirk Hinrich back on the floor. Hinrich, who had missed the past three weeks because of an elbow infection, had five points and 10 assists.

"He played great tonight, man," Bulls forward Carlos Boozer said. "For being out as long as he was out he came back in and it was almost seamless, man. He did a great job of getting everybody involved, made some big plays, hit a couple of big shots for us, played great defense, got a tough whistle tonight, but he still played great."

Thibodeau is happy to have Hinrich back leading his team.

"Sometimes it gets overlooked," Thibodeau said. "When you look at (the numbers), Luol (Deng) gets 13, 14 shots, Carlos gets his shots, Marco (Belinelli) and Rip (Hamilton) get their shots; it was very well-balanced. I thought Jimmy (Butler) gave us a good lift with his defense. I thought guys played to their strengths. I thought Rip was very effective when he was in there. We needed everybody. I thought Nazr (Mohammed) gave us some great minutes in the first half. It was a good team win."

Boozer said having all the starters back on the floor, playing the way they did, gave the Bulls a huge lift.

"It's huge, man," Boozer said. "That's why our chemistry is so good. You look at our team over the course of these two and a half years we've been together, the more we play together we get better and better, man. I think our chemistry continues to grow which is a big deal.

"As you guys know, having chemistry gets you through some of those tough moments you have in a season. You go through ups and downs, whatever. But the tough, tough, moments that are coming, the playoffs what have you, that chemistry, sometimes can carry you over the hump."