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Shoot! Deng does, nets career-high 38
In recent victories, Luol Deng has assisted Kirk Hinrich on a game-winning shot and kept alive an offensive rebound off which Tyrus Thomas scored another game-winner.
Monday night, Deng reminded everyone he can score a little too.
Deng's career-high 38 points helped the Bulls hold off a pesky Trail Blazers team for a 100-89 victory, pushing the Bulls a season-high 12 games over .500 and within one game of the idle Cavaliers for the second seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Bulls face the Cavaliers at home on Saturday, two days after playing host to the top-seeded Pistons.
"We just have to keep worrying about us," Deng said.
Deng showed similar focus with his career night, draining 18 of 25 shots and reaching his point total with just two free throws and no three-point attempts.
"That's the hard way right there," coach Scott Skiles said.
The Bulls, who surpassed last season's victory total with their 42nd win, led just 80-76 when officials called Martell Webster for a flagrant foul after he pulled Deng down by his jersey on a breakaway with 5 minutes 56 seconds left.
Deng drained both free throws to tie his old career high of 32 points, and Chris Duhon scored on the ensuing possession.
By the time Thomas had scored on a layup and Deng had drained a 17-foot jumper for his new career mark, the Bulls had an 8-0 run and a 12-point bulge.
Kirk Hinrich added 21 points and 12 assists while Ben Wallace grabbed 16 rebounds for the Bulls, who still can meet their goal of single-digit home losses if they win all five remaining games at the United Center.
Deng exited to a loud ovation and chants of "Luuuuuu" from the sellout crowd of 21,834.
"We tried to take away his slashes to the basket, but that's when he hit from the outside," Blazers coach Nate McMillan said. "He didn't force anything. He was controlled. He just played a great game."
LaMarcus Aldridge's 20 points led the Trail Blazers, the last Western Conference team on the Bulls' regular-season schedule. They finished 13-17 outside their conference.
The Bulls caught a break when guard Brandon Roy left the United Center hours before tipoff to fly to Seattle for the birth of his first child. Roy leads all rookies with averages of 16.3 points and four assists and is a leading candidate to win rookie of the year.
Still, the Bulls started sluggishly, hacking their way to 10 first-quarter fouls and sending the Blazers to the line a whopping 18 times in the first quarter alone. The Blazers led 45-41 at halftime.
Then the Bulls began to assert themselves defensively in the third. Wallace wreaked havoc, roaming to double-team guards, and the Bulls eventually forced 24 turnovers that they converted to 27 points.
"It had been awhile since we had forced the issue defensively," Hinrich said.
Ben Gordon struggled with a tight back and foul trouble early, scoring just four first-half points. But he heated up in the third, scoring 13 of his 17 points.
Gordon, Deng and P.J. Brown combined to score all 28 third-quarter points as the Bulls erased their halftime deficit to lead 69-63 after three.
"Every time I took a shot," Deng said, "I felt like it was going in."
Deng seized the nightand this time he wasn't passing off.