Bulls end drought with a flourish

This is the kind of passion and intensity that defined second-half performances in each of the last two playoff seasons.

This is the kind of energy and efficiency that will give general manager John Paxson pause before he would disrupt it with a trade.

Never trailing and leading for the final 45 minutes 47 seconds, the Bulls jazzed a raucous sellout crowd of 21,822 with a 96-85 victory Thursday night over defending Western Conference champion Mavericks at the United Center.

The Mavericks own the league's best record and entered having won eight straight and 21 of 22 games. The Bulls hadn't defeated the Mavs at the United Center since Dec. 29, 1997.

Instead of being fazed, the Bulls were ferocious, attacking at both ends and getting 30 points from Ben Gordon, 21 points and nine rebounds from Luol Deng and 17 rebounds and four blocks from Ben Wallace.

"Hopefully, this motivates us and gives us confidence to realize we can beat anybody in the NBA when we're playing the right way," Gordon said. "We have to build on this."

The Bulls limited the Mavericks to a season-low 31.2 percent shooting. Even in recording his seventh straight double-double with 28 points and 11 rebounds, the Bulls made Dirk Nowitzki look mortal with 7-of-22 shooting.

Josh Howard, the Mavericks' second-leading scorer, missed his first 10 shots, 14 of his first 15 and finished 4 of 20.

"My guys deserve a lot of credit for their defensive effort," coach Scott Skiles said.

Skiles specifically praised P.J. Brown's work on Nowitzki. And the Bulls need a scoring power forward? How about Brown, who hit three huge shots down the stretch and just missed a double-double with 12 points and nine rebounds?

"I got a nice little rhythm and just kept shooting," Brown said. "I'll treasure this. I don't know if I'll have another one like this the rest of the year."

Time and again, the Bulls drilled big shots when threatened.

Brown swished a turnaround jumper to beat the shot clock with 4:01 remaining after Nowitzki had hit a three-pointer to pull Dallas within 79-76. Kirk Hinrich hit a three with 3:23 left to put the Bulls up 84-76.

"If we get to this energy level every night, the sky is the limit," Gordon said. "We have all the pieces. We just have to play consistent."

The Bulls jumped to a 23-6 lead with all five starters scoring and Wallace recording three blocks in the first 7:35. They led by 14 after the first quarter, with Dallas posting a season-low 13 points.

You knew things were getting serious when Nowitzki muscled inside for a shot early in the second and Tyrus Thomas swatted it as if he were playing beach volleyball.

But Dallas, despite shooting just 28.3 percent in the first half, hung around. Nowitzki scored six as the Mavericks closed the first half with a 12-2 run to make it 47-41.

So many games this season, especially recently, the Bulls have muddled along like a pretender rather than a contender. So the natural questions are: Where have these kind of performances been all season? And can the Bulls do it again?

"More than ask myself, I ask them," Skiles said, smiling. "I'm curious as to why [energy] isn't always there. This is the kind of win that if you're smart about it, you can build on it."