CHICAGO -- The Bulls' self-dubbed "Bench Mob" is filled with fighters.
They fight to earn or extend leads. While respectful of their roles, they fight to play as long as possible. They even fight over whether starter Luol Deng, who often logs minutes with them, is an honorary member.
"He's sometimes a Bench Mob member," Taj Gibson said, laughing. "He kind of gets mad when we say he's not. So we say he is."
At the right time, the Bench Mob also is filled with pacifists.
There Gibson was Wednesday night in Atlanta, putting up a strong 19-point, six-rebound effort with smothering defense on Josh Smith to boot, and Joe Johnson went and horse-collared him to the ground. Official Jason Phillips explained -- feasibly and what looked to be correctly -- that Johnson had hit a wet spot on the court, causing the foul to look flagrant when it didn't warrant that call.
Gibson didn't care.
"It's basketball," Gibson said. "Just get up and move on. I'm happy I made the foul shots."
Gibson's poise under pressure is yet another example of the reliability of the Bulls' bench. Beyond the fact the reserves have outscored their counterparts 30 times in 52 games with two ties, Gibson and Omer Asik have teamed to turn -- and sometimes close -- games defensively. John Lucas III has had a career-high scoring night. C.J. Watson has carried the team another night. And on and on and on.
"It says a lot about our team," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "We count on everybody, whether it's in practices, games, extended minutes, short minutes. Everyone has to stay ready. That's their job."
More often than not, the bench has delivered. And if Richard Hamilton, who is to return from his extended injury absence to play Friday night when the Pistons visit, and Derrick Rose can stay healthy, look out. Reserves who have played starters' minutes will drop to their normal roles. And a strong bench could get stronger.
"It has been pretty remarkable, all the guys who have gone down and we still have the record we do," reserve shooter Kyle Korver said. "Obviously, we'd rather have Derrick. But there's rarely a night when either C.J. or Lucas don't combine for 30 or one of them gets 20. Guys just keep on stepping up and it's the sign of a really good team."
What transpires behind the scenes helps as well. Rose repeatedly has talked about Watson and Lucas pushing him in practice. Though this compressed season has featured little if any scrimmaging, Joakim Noah credited Asik last season for toughening him up via physical practices.
"Our second unit plays with so much energy," Gibson said. "One thing about our whole second unit is everybody plays off everybody's skills. It works and fits well. We bring energy to practice. We're always ready. Thibs has a lot of confidence in us. And we try to play hard for him."
Rotations shorten in the playoffs. Starters log heavy minutes. But if the Bulls want to exit the Eastern Conference, which could involve a rematch showdown with the Heat, big man depth could prove critical. Gibson and Asik will have to play well.
And Carlos Boozer thinks they will.
"A lot of these guys would be starters on other teams," Boozer said. "They're just playing behind studs on this team. But we have two groups that do their thing. And our bench guys come in super aggressive, all the way from the point guard to the center.
"We're very confident in them. It's fun to watch them get going."