For stretches Saturday night at a sold-out United Center, the parallels to late last season were eerie.
Eddy Curry dunked with as much authority as his roar of approval that followed. Tyson Chandler soared high to snare rebounds. Jamal Crawford penetrated and passed as often as he scored.
And the Bulls dealt a blow to a team with hopes in the ever-fluid Eastern Conference playoff picture, blowing a 14-point, third-quarter lead but rallying for an 87-81 victory over the Knicks.
Crawford's fall-away baseline jumper over Anfernee Hardaway and Vin Baker with 3.6 seconds remaining sealed matters.
Coach Scott Skiles has called the strong finish to last season "meaningless games." Maybe his perspective has changed now that the Bulls are on only their fifth two-game winning streak this season and have passed Orlando to escape the league's basementfor now.
Crawford, playing on his 24th birthday, finished with 25 points and nine assists. Curry, who had a huge putback with 1:22 to play, added 25 points and 14 rebounds.
The best friends joked before the game about Crawford asking Curry for a car as his present. And on a rare night of smiles, the Bulls even could laugh at Curry missing his second dunk in as many nights.
But the failure of the young core of Curry, Crawford and Chandler to produce on a more consistent basis this season is serious stuff, likely leading to major off-season changes.
Chandler, who is battling a bad virus, is trying to finish the season on a strong note even though his role isn't as prominent as it was at the tail end of last season. He has averaged 14 minutes in the last two games.
"It's just hard in general trying to fit back into my role," Chandler said. "I went from one extreme to the other, from playing 30 minutes a game and being in all the action to getting spot minutes. That part is tough.
"I want to be out there all the time. Everybody does. It has been a tough thing for me to swallow ever since I came back [from my back injury]. I'm just trying to fit in."
Curry is doing more than that, posting his second straight strong outing after Skiles threatened to remove him from the starting lineup. He drained all six of his first-half shots, finished 9-for-11 and even blocked four shots defensively.
"Eddy has a big upside," Skiles said. "Whether he can get a firm handle on exactly the level of commitment he's going to have to make to reach his potential, who knows the answer to that? But our job is to keep reinforcing how much we like him."
The Knicks were without Allan Houston, who sat with a left quadriceps contusion. Tim Thomas played only 12 minutes before sitting with a sore groin.
Bits: Jerome Williams dressed but didn't play as he continues to battle pain after surgery for an ingrown toenail. Rick Brunson, recently waived by the Bulls, is about to sign with Skipper Bologna in Italy for the rest of the season, which ends May 20.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times