For Bulls, it's not playoffs, it's principle

Chicago BullsBrooklyn NetsTyrus ThomasKirk HinrichBen GordonUnited CenterIndiana Pacers

Nine games remain in this most perplexing of Bulls seasons.

The playoffs remain a possibility only for serious dreamers and those fans with plenty of pins and voodoo dolls for every member of the Atlanta Hawks, New Jersey Nets and Indiana Pacers.

Yet interim coach Jim Boylan says now isn't the time for development minutes, and his rotations Saturday night in the Bulls' 114-111 victory over the Bucks at the United Center proved it.

"We haven't come to that point yet," Boylan said. "We're still going out to win our games. We still have a team that's fairly new as far as playing with each other. The young guys have been playing and they'll continue to get their share of minutes.

"But at this point, we'll continue to play the way we have been. A lot of it has been who has it going."

The Bulls, who were led by Larry Hughes' 19 points, pulled to within 31/2 games of the idle Hawks but remained in 11th place in the conference. Seven of their remaining nine games are against teams with winning records.

A late scratch of Drew Gooden, who succumbed to an abdominal strain he battled quietly all week, prompted Boylan to start Tyrus Thomas alongside Joakim Noah.

Thomas finished with 10 points and seven rebounds in 211/2 foul-plagued minutes. Noah posted his sixth double-double with a season-high 18 points and 15 rebounds.

Aaron Gray also sat with injury, suffering back spasms after playing almost all of the fourth quarter in the Bulls' comeback attempt in Atlanta. Boylan indicated those who are playing hardest and best would see the bulk of minutes, regardless of experience.

"The word professional is the key word," Boylan said. "Down the stretch, whether we're in it or out of it doesn't really matter. We are paid to do this. That's our job. And we should do it well, be professional, give it 100 percent.

"It's a reflection not only on our organization but on each individual guy. You have to come to work each day, punch the clock and play it all the way through."

The Bulls did against a Bucks team led by Michael Redd's 33 points but playing without starting center Andrew Bogut. Of course, the victory featured the Bulls' typical fourth-quarter meltdown.

The Bulls led 98-77 in the first minute of the final quarter before the Bucks ripped off a 19-2 run to pull within 100-96. Luol Deng's rebound basket halted that spurt, but the Bucks wouldn't go away.

Redd's two free throws pulled the Bucks to 104-100 before Kirk Hinrich found Noah with a nice interior bounce pass for a layup. Following a Redd miss, Thabo Sefolosha buried a three-pointer with 4:06 remaining.

Then, the Bulls watched a 10-point lead with 2:09 remaining dwindle to three before Hughes' two free throws with 14.4 seconds left iced matters.

"Hopefully, we can win out," Ben Gordon said. "That's my mind-set. We just have to keep competing."

kcjohnson@tribune.com

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