Sports are a cyclical affair, something both the Trail Blazers and the Bulls know all too well. After six seasons of misery, the Bulls finally are crawling out of the doldrums, a residence where this once-proud Portland franchise is taking root.
After missing the playoffs for the first time in 22 seasons last year, this season has brought declining attendance, uninterested players and the firing of coach Maurice Cheeks last Wednesday.
New coach Kevin Pritchard presides over a youth movement centered more on development than victories.
Bulls fans, not to mention Tim Floyd, know that route, which is why Wednesday's 97-84 victory over Portland at the Rose Garden was so refreshing.
The Bulls continued to fuel the swagger borne from an overachieving season devoid of major controversy, while Portland limped to its sixth straight loss with veterans checking out left and right.
Kirk Hinrich led a balanced Bulls attack, rebounding from a 1-of-6 first half, to score 19 of his 22 points after halftime.
The Bulls pulled away with a late 13-0 run, which featured Hinrich's hustle to force two turnovers, Tyson Chandler's dominant defense and an Andres Nocioni dunk over Joel Przybilla.
"Sometimes, I can jump," Nocioni said, smiling.
Chandler, claiming the paint as his, had nine points and 13 rebounds. Nocioni was huge with 14 points, six rebounds and five assists. And Eddy Curry, playing down the stretch for the second straight game, added 25 points and eight rebounds with only one of the Bulls' near-season-low 12 turnovers.
The Bulls have 31 victories, the most in the rebuilding era.
"This is only the beginning," Curry said. "I'm happy coach saw I was ready to play. I think I came up big."
Shareef Abdur-Rahim led Portland with 22 points and 10 rebounds.
On a day when Zach Randolph joined Nick Van Exel, Ruben Patterson and Derek Anderson on the sideline, announcing he needed season-ending right knee surgery, the Bulls were reminded how fortunate they were to keep their spirits afloat during their abysmal 0-9 start.
"Clearly, we've had a season that has lacked problems that a lot of other teams have had," Skiles said. "That's to the players' credit."
In the first half, the Bulls' offense was completely out of sync, shooting 34 percent and breaking off several sets. Skiles went deep into his rotation in an attempt to find the right combination, even inserting guard Frank Williams for the first time since Jan. 12.
But Ben Gordon, who has taken over the rookie scoring lead from Emeka Okafor, heated up just before halftime, draining two three-pointers and dishing to Curry for a dunk off deep, fast-break penetration. The Bulls cut their deficit to 45-40 at halftime after trailing by as many as 11.
"I was really happy with the way we responded in the second half after a less-than-stellar performance," Skiles said. "We were pretty relentless. And we really turned up our defense."
BULLS 97, BLAZERS 84
Bulls' balance buries inept Blazers
Hinrich stirs in 2nd half, Curry nets 25
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