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Bulls put things together in 110-88 victory over Warriors
The team chairman can call the season "a disaster" and "embarrassing," as Jerry Reinsdorf did as recently as five weeks ago.
The first-year coach can sit the star rookie for fourth-quarter stretches, drawing a rebuke from the general manager. That general manager can make three trades, turning the season into an on-the-fly chemistry project.
And the team can look like world-beaters one night or as disorganized as a rec-league squad the next.
Yet here the Bulls are—shockingly, maddeningly, tantalizingly—tied for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot after Wednesday night's 110-88 victory over the Warriors at the United Center.
They arrive there after overcoming another horrible start and thanks to losses of the Bucks to the Cavaliers and the Nets to the Celtics.
Despite the schizophrenic nature to this season, some might say they arrive with perfect timing because Friday night's home showdown is against the Scott Skiles-coached Bucks, the team with which they are tied.
"We need to get some type of attitude or professionalism to get going," a fired-up Vinny Del Negro said pregame. "We have it sometimes but we're not consistent with it. Whether it's because we're young or we just brought in new guys, I'm not big into excuses. You're paid to play. We have to bring effort."
Throw out the first quarter and the Bulls finally did in a share-the-ball, share-the-wealth effort that placed six players in double figures and allowed them to sweep this season series for the first time since 1997-98, their last NBA title season.
In his second straight start, John Salmons shook off his rough outing in Charlotte to lead the Bulls with 23 points and nine rebounds. Brad Miller added 19 points off the bench and Joakim Noah contributed 14 points, 17 rebounds and four blocks.
"I feel my role really hasn't changed," Noah said. "I'm just trying to crash the glass as hard as I can."
Noah, a career 66 percent free-throw shooter, also made all eight attempts and has made 14 straight over three games.
"I'm not telling you," Noah said, smiling, when asked the secret to his new success.
The second-year center then covered up his ears in mock fashion when asked about not missing an attempt in three games. Yes, in stark contrast to Tuesday night's postgame locker room after the dismal loss to Charlotte, smiles were abundant.
And why not? Despite playing without Tim Thomas and Luol Deng, the Bulls flashed ample depth, even though Del Negro rode seven players until inserting Aaron Gray for mop-up duty with 2 minutes 51 seconds left.
All seven players who logged second-quarter action scored as the Bulls shot 58.3 percent in the quarter and outscored the Warriors 31-19.
"I thought Kirk [Hinrich] came in and gave us a big boost defensively, got our energy back," Del Negro said. "And then we started making some shots."