Listless effort good enough vs. doormat

The fans wanted to cheer. They really did. But midway through the third quarter, the loudest sound emanating from the United Center was Bulls coach Scott Skiles imploring his team to play harder.

By quarter's end, the sellout crowd of 21,945 entertained itself by going retro and doing the Wave.

Thanks to a strong fourth quarter, the Bulls are 20-13 at the United Center following Monday night's 105-91 victory over Atlanta, whose fifth straight loss further cemented its status as the league's worst team.

But consistent with the higher standards this Bulls season has created, their listless defensive performance that provoked such inanities as the Wave didn't fly very well.

"We're trying to get our guys to understand how important winning at home is," Skiles said. "The team that's leading our division, Detroit, has won 12 in a row at home. We've been a great road team; 14-18 for us is fantastic. Twenty-13 at home isn't good enough."

Skiles, though, conceded that "any win this time of year is a good win."

The Bulls welcomed Eddy Curry and Luol Deng back from injury but appeared to suffer a setback when Andres Nocioni left with 66 seconds remaining in the first half with a sprained right wrist.

Nocioni scored on a driving layup and used his right hand to break his fall. He didn't grimace and showed no signs of pain as he ran to the other end, where he again used his right hand to break his fall while defending.

Nocioni left for the locker room, where team officials said he would remain.

But Nocioni returned with his wrist taped, played 10 second-half minutes and laughed about team officials asking him to take a magnetic resonance imaging test on Tuesday.

"That's silly," he said. "I'm fine."

Curry, who had missed three games with a sore left hamstring, made his presence felt early, hitting his first three shots. He overcame foul trouble and finished with 24 points and six rebounds in 24 minutes against the not-so-immortal Obinna Ekezie.

"I'm not 100 percent," Curry said. "It's pretty sore.

"But it's good enough to play. I didn't think about it."

Deng, seeing his first action since spraining his right ankle on March 1, came off the bench to provide nine points and 22 minutes.

"I felt good," Deng said. "I just need to get my wind back."

The Bulls also got 17 points—and five turnovers—from Ben Gordon and 12 points and 10 assists from Kirk Hinrich, who tweaked his sore left hamstring and didn't play in the fourth quarter, riding a stationary bicycle instead.

"I could've played if I had to," Hinrich said.

Offensively, the Bulls played well on paper, shooting 47.5 percent, finishing with 24 assists and a season-low 10 turnovers.

But they broke off several plays and didn't play with the same sense of urgency—on offense or defense—as they did in beating the 76ers on Saturday.

"We picked it up midway through the third," Skiles said. "But we have to be more consistent."

Added Hinrich: "I still don't think we're playing as well as we can. But it's nice to still be able to win."