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Baffoe: New Year, New Bulls?

Tim Baffoe--

(CBS) "Man, that was a long time ago."

That was Bulls star Jimmy Butler noting the distance regarding the soap opera episode largely concerning him and coach Fred Hoiberg earlier this season. Following the 101-92 victory over the Boston Celtics on Thursday at the United Center, Butler further attempted to put that ugly business in the rear-view mirror he doesn't own.

Twenty days to be exact, but who's counting?

Just shy of three weeks is a lifetime in pro sports, though. Players peak and valley without much rhyme or reason. Teams evolve and devolve and wind up something more definitive of their long-haul selves.

So while last-minute holiday shopping might still have our wallets sore, Butler isn't wrong. And his teammates are helping show that.

It's been nine straight games of scoring in the triple-digits for the Bulls (22-12) and six straight wins, as they've yet to lose in the new year. Logically, it's coincidental, but it's almost as if the change of the calendar changed the team.

That worry about getting used to Hoiberg's offense, getting to the point where it isn't five guys and a ball but rather a cohesive unit? More than 1,000 points starting with that weak collective effort in New York after which Butler called out his coach should quell a lot of that. The team's points-per-100 possessions checks in at 109.7 since Christmas. Six Bulls scored in double figures Thursday, along with some coach porn like this:

Despite missing a few recent games with a hamstring issue, Derrick Rose averaging 19.6 points per game since Christmas and is a plus-28 in that span. He has regained confidence in his body, and it's visible via his increased attacking of the rim and a lack of inhibition at drawing contact (and less of a willingness to settle for lower-percentage shots that had been so painful to watch in 2015). Plus, he's pissed.

Rose received a technical foul Thursday in frustration over his 2016 absence from the free-throw line, a streak that continues as he's played two games in the new year.

"The story of my career. Since my MVP year I always felt like I didn't go to the line the way I was supposed to," he said after the game. "(Getting to the line's) not my call. It's up to the referees to make the call. So my job is to keep pushing and being aggressive."

Pau Gasol -- whose name during the turmoil was brought up to note that he'd likely be opting out of his contract after this season and moving elsewhere -- has been a beast since that time. The following table, courtesy of @BullsBlogger, shows what he's done up to and then since the four-overtime game against the Detroit Pistons on Dec. 18.

PauLocked's Cody Westerlund also wrote Thursday about the success of pairing Gasol with Taj Gibson in the starting lineup.

"The advanced numbers aren't gaudy – the duo has a plus-3.5 two-man net rating since Hoiberg inserted Gibson into the starting lineup – but they've provided stability, and success has followed in the form of an 11-4 record with them together (Gasol rested for one game during that span).

"Most importantly, the two complement each other. Defensively, Gasol's a quality rim protector but a liability when put in the pick-and-roll, while Gibson's adept at chasing foes out to the 3-point line. In the half-court game, Gasol loves operating in the high post in the pick-and-pop game – he's not much for rolling – while Gibson's hobbies are bee-lining to the rim for alley-oop chances and crashing the glass."

And while Gasol may still be gone in the summer, his sense of humor lately isn't any indication that he wants out.

These Bulls can totally revert back to chaos mode in a heartbeat, but right now they just seem like a different animal than we saw less than a month ago. Call it jelling, call it swagger, call it whatever. They simply seem sure of themselves all of a sudden.

And the soap opera seems to be as though from a different season. Following Sunday's win over the Toronto Raptors, this was the immediate scene.

That's not 12 individuals. It's a team.

Unlike what was going on a long time ago last month.

Tim Baffoe is a columnist for Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.

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