Hoisting contested jumpers often and playing intense defense less so, the Bulls continued to muddle along Friday night at the United Center.
Their 101-96 victory over a Knicks team without Stephon Marbury, Quentin Richardson and with a scoreless Eddy Curry may have improved the Bulls' record but not necessarily their long-term outlook.
Teams with title aspirations don't often find themselves with a three-point lead after leading by 16 in the fourth quarter of a home game.
Against a sub-.500 team.
Luol Deng's 29 points and 10 rebounds, Kirk Hinrich's second career triple-double and Andres Nocioni's 17 points helped the Bulls hang on.
But the Bulls know a similar effort against almost any team other than the dysfunctional Knicks would be cause for trouble.
"They went to a smaller lineup, and for a 2 1/2 -minute span they got physical with us, and we didn't respond well," coach Scott Skiles said of the Knicks' late rally. "We also broke down a couple of instances where we know their guys are going a certain direction 98 percent of the time and we weren't on that hand.
"But we did a lot of things well. We have to take it."
The Bulls appeared to lead comfortably 94-85 before Hinrich committed a turnover and Nocioni missed a shot.
Former DePaul star Wilson Chandler scored on both ensuing Knicks possessions to cut the lead to five.
Nocioni split two free throws to make it 95-89, but Zach Randolph, huge with 27 points and 15 rebounds, swished a three-pointer to make it a three-point game.
Hinrich and Ben Gordon, who shot 4 of 11, sandwiched two free throws each around a Fred Jones basket to make it 99-94. Jones' miss then sealed it for the Bulls.
"We had a six-minute stretch in the third quarter where we played very good basketball," Skiles said. "We dominated the glass. We pushed the ball up. We made nice decisions on the break. There were other areas where we didn't play well."
Nocioni helped awaken the Bulls from a sluggish first three quarters by jump-starting a 16-4 run that turned a 64-62 lead into an 80-66 game.
First Nocioni drained a 10-foot turnaround. He then blocked Jones' shot, leading to Deng's fast break and three-point play. Nocioni later added another jumper.
In a season where the Bulls have lost their swagger and, more often than not, their habit of outworking opponents, Nocioni continues to stand out for reasons other than resembling Shaggy from Scooby Doo.
His Bull-in-the-china-shop intensity rarely wavers.
"He's one of those guys [even] when things aren't going well for the team or himself, he plays the same," Skiles said. "He's the same every day in practice. He brings it all the time. And going through periods where emotionally maybe we weren't as solid as we need to be, his intensity can carry us not only in the game but the practice court too."
That would be a good place for the Bulls to retreat, considering they continued to settle for perimeter shots against a Knicks defense allowing 102.5 points per game, 25th in the league.
Defensively, at least, the Bulls challenged shots, setting a United Center record with 15 blocks. Nocioni, unsurprisingly, had five. Hinrich tied his career high with three, part of his monster night.
Hinrich also had 15 points, 14 assists and 12 rebounds.
"I felt good," Hinrich said. "I'm trying to concentrate on playing my game and having a good floor game. I feel like I've been doing that of late.
"But we didn't finish it out. We made a lot of mistakes. Hopefully we can improve on that because that's important in this league."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times