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Bull-ieve it: Finally a 'W'
Suddenly, the unhappiness of Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry over being pulled from the starting lineup matters little.
Out of nowhere, coach Scott Skiles' displeasure over Kirk Hinrich's light-hearted demeanor and attitude at Wednesday's morning shootaround is a moot point.
And those players who questioned how rookie Luol Deng could start on All-Star forward Andrei Kirilenko are silent.
If losing creates finger-pointing and dissension, winning cures all.
And the Bulls, who needed a victory as much as oxygen, enjoyed all the jubilation that is inherent in such moments following a 101-99 triumph over Utah at the Delta Center.
"If we didn't get this one," Tyson Chandler said, smiling, "we would've had to check some players into the hospital. You can't put a label on how badly we needed to win."
The victory allowed the Bulls (1-9) to avoid setting a franchise record for the worst start to a season and snapped a 37-game losing streak on their annual extended November trip stretching back to 1997.
Most important, it finally gave the Bulls reward for the one thing that hadn't deserted them through all the losing and grumblinga strong work ethic.
"They deserve this," Skiles said. "This is good for our guys' psyche."
After all the talk over Chandler and Curry getting benched, Chandler played seven more minutes than his season average and Curry fell two minutes shy of hisand only because he battled foul trouble, eventually fouling with 24.3 seconds to go and with 21 points.
"You have to give them credit for the way they handled coming off the bench," Hinrich said.
Ben Gordon led the Bulls with 22 points, including four clutch free throws in the final 19.3 seconds.
Chris Duhon, part of the new starting lineup with Hinrich, Andres Nocioni, Antonio Davis and Deng, took a critical charge on Matt Harpring with 17.2 seconds left and the Bulls up three.
When Chandler and Curry became Bulls in June 2001, they were portrayed as the cornerstones that would resuscitate a sagging franchise.
Former general manager Jerry Krause banked his future on that bill of goods and the media and public, so starved for the Bulls to return to their glory days, ran with the concept.
Chandler and Curry still want that responsibility. Perhaps that is the reason both are so frustrated by Skiles' move to bring them off the bench. It certainly is behind their perception that the team is now more centered on perimeter-based players like Deng, Hinrich, Nocioni and Gordon.
"If that's their wishes, then that's what they need to do," Chandler said. "It can't be flip-flopping. If that's what it is, that's what it is."
Chandler, for the second straight day, stumbled through an answer when asked if he believes a shift in responsibility has occurred.
"I mean, since I've been here, I don't know," Chandler said. "When you lose like this, you have to do something."
This is no new argument in the NBA, a league that constantly has coaches trying to get players to buy into team conceptsto varying degrees of success. That's why Skiles emphatically rejects any previous categorizations of Chandler and Curry for his current decision-making process.
"I wasn't the salesman of that," Skiles said. "That doesn't mean anything to me. I haven't even been here a calendar year yet. We're just simply trying to win the game. That's all I should be thinking about. I can't be worried about everybody's sensibilities all the time. There's way too much of that in the league in my opinion.
"I've made it very clear: I'm fond of both guys. Both have worked hard for me. I'd be very frank with them if I thought it was necessary and say, 'Look, you guys aren't doing this or that.' But we're making this change because we're not winning games.
"Too much is put on them."