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With Tim Thomas still out East, Jerome James still injured and John Salmons and Brad Miller in street clothes, the Bulls dressed eight players Friday night at the United Center.
"Seven-and-a-half," cracked Lindsey Hunter, in a nod to his 38 years.
Short-handed but scrappy, the Bulls notched an impressive 116-99 victory over the high-flying Nuggets, who played the second half without Kenyon Martin.
Martin's back spasms must have flared anew inside the Nuggets' locker room when he watched Joakim Noah take a sweet bounce pass from Luol Deng and slam home an exclamation point that capped a 10-0 run and snapped an 87-87 tie. All with Derrick Rose on the bench as the rookie sat for the final 9 minutes 27 seconds.
"I liked Kirk [Hinrich's] demeanor out there," coach Vinny Del Negro said. "He guarded Chauncey [Billups] well and stabilized us, got us in our sets a little better."
The Bulls responded with 50.6 percent shooting and a 22-4 edge in fast-break points. They are now a half-game behind the Bucks for the last Eastern Conference playoff spot.
Everybody contributed. Ben Gordon scored a season-high 37 points, Tyrus Thomas and Luol Deng posted double-doubles with a combined 43 points and 24 rebounds and Noah turned in a strong second half to finish with 13 points and seven rebounds.
"We have resilient guys," Del Negro said. "I like the direction and the mind-set. I'm happy we stayed together after a [poor] first quarter."
Salmons and Miller watched Friday morning's shootaround at Berto Center, passed their physicals Friday afternoon at the United Center and sat waiting in their uniforms before tipoff when word came Sacramento hadn't finished physicals for Andres Nocioni and Drew Gooden.
Thus, the players weren't eligible.
Likewise, Larry Hughes didn't play in the Knicks' blowout of Toronto because Thomas is taking his allowed 48 hours to report and is scheduled to arrive Saturday for his physical.
Del Negro confirmed James' ruptured right Achilles' tendon has the center in a cast and could prevent him from joining the Bulls. Insurance is expected to cover James' contract. Afterthought Anthony Roberson was in street clothes.
Del Negro said he wouldn't have started Miller or Salmons after just one shootaround but definitely would have played them if allowed.
The Bulls didn't need them, rallying from a 10-point first-quarter deficit to close the first half with an 18-7 run with Rose on the bench. Gordon scored nine in this stretch as the Bulls sank six straight shots and forced a 54-54 tie at halftime.
Behind a huge, 15-point third quarter from Gordon, the Bulls pushed their lead to 11 during the period.
"We knew if we didn't bring it against a good Denver team, we'd get killed," Hinrich said.
By Sunday's game in Indianapolis, Salmons and Miller will be available and Thomas could be. Del Negro said, barring weather problems, Thomas will practice Saturday and travel with the team to Indiana.
Expect more scrappiness—and for Hunter to find his other half.