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All hands on deck for Bulls
Pick a hero, any hero.
There were plenty to choose from in the Bulls' 107-101 victory over Seattle at Key Arena on Friday night, just the team's second in nine road games against Western Conference teams.
Was it Andres Nocioni, who snapped a 97-97 tie with under two minutes to play with five straight points, including a three-point play on an aggressive drive?
Was it P.J. Brown, whose 14 points, seven rebounds and three blocks couldn't obscure his biggest play, a charge taken from Damien Wilkins with 45.3 seconds remaining?
How about Luol Deng, who responded to his All-Star snub by leading the Bulls with 27 points and 12 rebounds?
There also was Kirk Hinrich, who tallied 20 points and nine assists and helped hound Ray Allen into a season-high 19 missed shots.
And Chris Duhon, who snapped out of a month-long slump by hitting his first six shots and scoring 14 off the bench.
"That was a good win with a lot of big plays," coach Scott Skiles summarized nicely.
Ben Wallace surprisingly tried to play after missing just one game with the bruised tendon in his left knee. But he clearly didn't look like himself, failed to grab a first-half rebound and finished with just two in 23 mostly invisible minutes.
"I couldn't get loosened up," said Wallace, who emphatically said he'd play Saturday night in Portland.
The Bulls finally loosened up on the road by making the winning plays down the stretch, a direct reversal from Wednesday's loss against the Clippers.
"For us to grind one out should give us confidence for the upcoming games," Duhon said.
Allen's 29 points came on 9-for-28 shooting.
"I just try to play as hard as I can on him," Hinrich said. "You have to rely a lot on your teammates. The main thing is just to keep thinking. He has one of the quickest releases in the league."
Hinrich and Allen renewed their often-spirited matchup that took a hiatus when Allen missed these teams' Dec. 13 matchup in Chicago. Hinrich scored 10 and Allen had 11 after the first period.
The Bulls trailed 56-55 after an entertaining first half in which both teams shot 55 percent. Seattle had a staggering 34 points in the paint at the break as the Bulls' interior defense was non-existent.
"Our defense was disgusting in the first half," Skiles said.
But the Bulls opened the third quarter with a 10-0 run, capped by a pretty touch pass from Hinrich to a trailing Deng for a fast-break dunk.
The Bulls opened an 83-73 lead early in the fourth before Seattle stormed back with a 10-0 run to tie it, capped by back-to-back three-pointers from Luke Ridnour. The Bulls committed turnovers on three straight possessions and almost a fourth during this stretch.
In the past, such stretches have buried them. Not this time.
"We were solid and made the mental plays down the stretch to get the win," Brown said.
Wallace appeared headed toward missing his second straight game when the center left the court early during the morning shootaround because of stiffness and rode a stationary bicycle instead.
But Wallace, wearing a pad to protect the injury, tested the injury before the game by cutting and backpedaling and declared himself ready.
"It's a little surprising," Skiles said. "[Friday] morning, he moved around and didn't feel real comfortable. So he went on the bike and rode pretty hard and felt better.
"I've never been aware of anybody questioning whether Ben Wallace is going to try to play if he can play. The guys see him every day working, trying to rehab."
The Bulls, trying to rehab their road record, swept the season series for the first time since 1996-97.
"We needed this," Nocioni said. "Now we need to keep it going."