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Bulls rout L.A. Clippers, 95-75
Luol Deng, Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich and Andres Nocioni have been on three Bulls teams that played 22 playoff games so, believe it or not, they do know something about winning.
And they know enough to know the time is now.
Taking advantage of a woebegone and injured Clippers team, the Bulls snapped their five-game skid with their largest margin of victory this season, a 95-75 laugher before a pro-Bulls and smallish crowd at Staples Center.
With three teams and 1.5 games separating the Bulls from the playoffs, their margin for error is over.
"This is the critical time," Gordon said. "Look at teams like Milwaukee, who's in the eighth spot and they lose Michael Redd (for the season). Things happen all the time. You've just got to try to take advantage."
The Bulls did behind Luol Deng's 23 points, 21 points and six assists from Derrick Rose and Tyrus Thomas' double-double of 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Solid ball movement led to 31 assists on 37 field goals with Gordon's team-high eight one off his career-high.
"Our ball movement was better, which we've stressed a lot," coach Vinny Del Negro said. "Defensively, we played angles better and kept the ball out of the middle more."
Del Negro also praised the rebounding work of Thomas and Joakim Noah, who accounted for 11 of the Bulls' 15 offensive rebounds. The Bulls outrebounded the Clippers 52-33 overall and piled up a 15-4 edge in second-chance points.
The Bulls broke open a taut game with an 18-4, third-quarter run, with Noah and Gordon scoring five apiece. Eventually, the Bulls built just their third 20-point lead this season.
"We haven't had a blowout game or decent lead in awhile," Rose said. "This losing stretch has been tough. This will help us a lot."
Deng came out aggressive and active, scoring 11 of the Bulls' first 14 points. The Bulls led 47-44 at halftime as Deng had 17 by the break.
"I got good looks and was moving well without the ball," Deng said. "We were moving the ball well and guys were finding me."
The hapless Clippers have now lost 17 of 19 despite Marcus Camby and Baron Davis returning from injuries in reserve roles. They played without big men Zach Randolph and Chris Kaman.
As usual, the Bulls focused on improvement from within in the second of seven straight road games.
"The biggest thing is we have to limit our turnovers and rebound as a group," Del Negro said. "We can't put all that on the big guys. It's hard to run in transition if you don't have the ball. We have to be more physical down there."
Doing so without Drew Gooden has proved more difficult than envisioned. Gooden rejoined the Bulls at Wednesday's morning shootaround at a local health club after visiting Mike Clark, a former Suns' physical therapist, on Tuesday in Phoenix.
Clark, coincidentally, worked on Del Negro's sore shins once during Del Negro's playing career. But other than showing Gooden stretching and strengthening exercises, the specialist couldn't change the veteran forward's status as out, according to Del Negro, for at least a week.
"It turns out I have a strain in my abdominal and a groin pull so it's like a double whammy," Gooden said. "The abdominal is my biggest pain as far as trying to do a situp and lateral movements and trying to explode. But I am feeling better than last week so that's a plus."
So was, finally, a victory.
"This was a game we felt we should definitely win," Gordon said. "We came out and got the 'W' because we kept taking what the defense gave us. We moved the ball and played very unselfishly, which got us a lot of open shots. That's the way we have to play."