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Curry showing spring in step
Over the last six seasons Bulls games in late March have had all the lasting significance of a romance novel or a Shania Twain song.
That's changing this spring, which is why each game reveals more spring in this Bulls team's steps.
Eddy Curry is the springiest of all.
Showing no effects from a swollen knee, Curry scored 25 points Monday night to lead the Bulls to a 94-86 victory over Memphis at a sold out United Center.
In another all-around team effort, the Bulls' sixth straight win pushed them to a season-best seven games over .500 and kept them one game behind Washington for homecourt advantage in the playoffs.
Kirk Hinrich missed his fourth straight game with a strained left hamstring, and Luol Deng didn't play in the second half because of a sprained right wrist. But these Bulls just keep on cruising, moving to 4-0 without Hinrich.
Anxious moments pervaded the fourth quarter. Bonzi Wells scored 11 of his 30 in a 21-5 run as Memphis all but erased an 18-point deficit, pulling to within 86-84 with 2 minutes 56 seconds remaining.
Double-teamed in the fourth quarter at every opportunity, the Bulls finally found Curry inside, where he drew a foul and hit two free throws with 2:48 to play.
After Mike Miller drained a jumper to again cut Memphis' deficit to two, Curry passed out of a double team to Andres Nocioni, who got fouled and hit two free throws with 2:15 to play.
"Eddy has gotten more aggressive getting his position," coach Scott Skiles said. "We've also gotten better at delivering the ball to him."
Nocioni then successfully defended Wells on back-to-back Memphis possessions, and Tyson Chandler iced the victory with two free throws with 12.4 seconds left.
"We made it interesting again," Skiles said, stifling a smirk. "But I was happy with the way we played overall."
Chandler finished with 13 points and 14 rebounds for his team-high 14th double-double. Ben Gordon added 17 points and Nocioni 12 for the Bulls.
Since missing three games with his own sore left hamstring, Curry has averaged 24.5 points on 65.6 percent shooting in his last five games.
"I think it helped my body recover," Curry said. "I came back and found some more energy that I didn't have before I got hurt. You never want to miss games, but it helped me out a bit."
X-rays taken on Deng's wrist were negative; the Bulls are getting adept at dealing with injuries.
At Monday's morning shootaround, Hinrich said his hamstring had shown improvement for the first time thanks to a weekend full of rest and treatment. But Hinrich tested the sore leg during the pregame warmup, and that's when cutting and running proved too painful.
Hinrich is questionable for Wednesday's game in Charlotte. That would be the fifth game missed by Hinrich, the minimum requirement for a stay on the injured list.
"In hindsight, maybe it's something we should've looked at," Skiles said. "But you can't second-guess something when the injury does seem day-to-day. Five games is a long time right now with only 13 to go."
Like perennials ready to bloom after a dormant winter, everything is growing for the Bulls.
The attendance figures. The confidence level. The number of injured players. And, still, the victory total.
"We have lots of confidence, but we're pretty mellow about it," Curry said. "We know what we have to do and we're just going out and doing it. This is crunch time. We're jockeying for position. A couple of those playoff spots are wide open. We feel like if we play the right kind of basketball, anything can happen."