CHICAGO -- Derrick Rose realizes there are bigger goals out there for the Chicago Bulls, so getting in position to grab the Eastern Conference lead from Boston isn't an end in itself.
"If us winning games puts us ahead of them, that'll be great, but our thing is trying to keep this thing going," Rose said.
Right now, the going is good.
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Rose came on strong after a slow start to finish with 34 points, and Chicago ran away with its 12th win in 14 games, beating the struggling Atlanta Hawks 94-76 on Friday.
The Bulls prevailed on a night when Carlos Boozer sat out with a sprained left ankle thanks to a strong third quarter. Leading the way was Rose with 18 points in the period as the Bulls outscored Atlanta 24-10 to turn a two-point halftime deficit into a 72-60 lead, and Chicago pulled within a half game of Eastern Conference leader Boston.
Luol Deng added 18 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and three steals. And he again drew high praise from coach Tom Thibodeau, who said, "He's the glue to the team."
"Coach saying that really means a lot to me," he said.
Limited by injuries in recent seasons, Deng has played in all 64 games this year.
That run was in jeopardy after he suffered a bruised left thigh while take a knee from Charlotte's Gerald Henderson on Wednesday. The Bulls won that game to clinch the Central division, but it was a costly victory.
Besides Deng's bruise, Boozer limped off the court after an awkward landing on a late flagrant foul by Kwame Brown and he remains day to day. Thibodeau started Kurt Thomas instead of Taj Gibson in his place to keep an effective second unit intact, and the veteran grabbed 13 rebounds while helping contain Al Horford (six points) in his first appearance since Feb. 23.
Joakim Noah had 11 rebounds and Chicago outrebounded the Hawks 50-28 while sending Atlanta to its fourth straight loss.
Joe Johnson led the Hawks with 16 points. Josh Smith added 15 and Jamal Crawford scored 14 for Atlanta, which went cold in the third -- its lowest scoring quarter this season -- and remained winless since beating Chicago at home last week.
"We still have a lot more basketball left," Johnson said. "We've just got to stay positive and get out of this little rut we're in."
Rose perked up in a big way, turning around what looked like another brutal performance against Atlanta. He hit just 2 of 11 shots in the first half after going 5-for-21 with just 12 points and six turnovers in the previous meeting.
But after Kirk Hinrich started the second half by stretching Atlanta's lead to 52-48 with a jumper, Chicago's All-Star point guard went to work in a big way as the Bulls reeled off 14 straight points.
"You got to figure he's going to find a way to have an impact on the game and he definitely had it in the second half," said Hinrich, the former Bulls player.
Rose scored 12 during that stretch, starting it with a 3-pointer and ending it with a driving layup that made it 62-52.
The Hawks, meanwhile, missed seven straight shots and went seven minutes without scoring before Crawford hit a 3 with 4:41 remaining. But the Bulls remained in control the rest of the way, with their defense tightening up and Rose going to the rim.
"I was trying to get myself going," he said. "If my shot's not falling, one thing to do is go to the hole."
The Hawks' 26 points in the second half was one off their season low. ... The 28 rebounds also tied a season low for Atlanta, while the Bulls' 50 were one less than the season-high by an Atlanta opponent. ... Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen will be on hand as the Bulls celebrate the 20th anniversary of their first championship at halftime of Saturday's game against Utah. Also attending will be John Paxson, Horace Grant, Stacey King, Craig Hodges, Will Perdue, Scott Williams, Cliff Levingston, Dennis Hopson and assistant coach Johnny Bach. Former Bulls broadcaster Jim Durham will emcee the ceremony. ... Grant got a nice ovation when he was shown seated at courtside before the start of the second quarter. ... The Hawks had won eight of nine against Chicago.