Thursday , Jan , 13 , 2005 C.Y. Ellis

Bulls may finally be headed in the right direction

By Warren Blatt, Sports Network NBA Editor

(Sports Network) – The Chicago Bulls won their fifth straight game, as they
crushed Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers, 110-78, at the United
Center. With the victory, Chicago improved to 15-18 on the season.

Chicago got a strong all-around performance from its team, as four players
scored in double-digits and its bench outscored Philadelphia’s reserves,
50-27. The Bulls also dominated the glass, outrebounding the Sixers, 50-30.

Rookie Ben Gordon tied a career-high with 31 points to lead the Bulls to the
win over Philadelphia. Gordon, who played just 25 minutes,was a solid 10-of-16
from the field, including 4-of-7 from three-point range. He also made 7-of-8
free throw attempts.

“That was a good game over a club that we have respect for,” said Chicago head
coach Scott Skiles. “It was probably our best game in the past week or so. We
did a great job on Allen Iverson. I thought everyone played him well,
particularly Ben Gordon.

“The key was to keep Iverson off the line. As I look at the box score, it is
just a good all-around game. We got 50 rebounds as a team and no one player in
double figures, which means as a team we did a very good job on the glass.
That was one of our points of emphasis.”

Center Eddy Curry had a productive game against the 76ers, as he was 9-of-11
from the floor and finished with 24 points and four rebounds in 29 minutes of
action. He has scored in double-digits in 17 straight contests for Chicago.

“Our team did a good job of getting me the ball in good spots,” said Curry.
“And it’s always good when they’re out there looking for you like that.”

Kirk Hinrich played a team-high 34 minutes and scored 16 points to go along
with a game-high nine assists for the Bulls, while rookie Luol Deng ended with
10 points, four rebounds and three assists.

“Philadelphia is a tough team to play against,” said Hinrich. “We were
expecting a battle and we were able to pull away a little. We got into it more
offensively, especially Ben (Gordon), but I think everybody played well on our
team. Everybody was in the game and when you have one of those kinds of
efforts you are going to win.”

Gordon rebounded from two poor games, as he scored just seven points in each
of the previous two contests. Not only was he deadly offensively, but Gordon
held his own against Iverson, who is the league’s leading scorer. Iverson, who
did score a team-high 21 points for Sixers, was just 8-of-21 from the floor
and did commit four turnovers.

“I just tried to use my speed defensively and just tried to contain him
(Iverson),” said Gordon. “He’s the fastest guard in the league.”

With Hinrich and Gordon, the Bulls have their backcourt of the future. Deng
give Chicago an athletic small forward who is only going to get better. Curry
and forward Tyson Chandler must show that they can perform consistently on a
team that has a chance to make the postseason, as both players may be headed
out of town through free agency after the season.

The 22-year-old Curry has played in 30 of Chicago’s first 33 games and is
averaging 15.4 points and 6.2 rebounds, while Chandler, who is also 22, has
played in all 33 contests and registered 8.1 points and a team-high 9.1
rebounds. The Bulls have two major decisions to make that will most definitely
have a major impact on the future of the franchise.

The Bulls have won 11 of their last 14 games overall. However, 10 of the 14
contests were played at the United Center and only two of the victories came
against teams with records over .500. Chicago has managed to put together its
second five-game winning streak of the season.

“I really don’t have a colorful comment,” said Skiles about his team’s second
five-game winning streak of the season. “I am happy with the way we are
playing. I’m almost immediately thinking about six in a row. We have an
unusual situation where we play the Knicks back-to-back. It does not happen
very often. We cannot take anything for granted. And I am very pleased with
the effort. Once again, every guy I called on to go into the game contributed
something positive. I still do not want to see us get ahead of ourselves.”

Chicago has a tough stretch of games ahead. The Bulls play a home-and-home set
with New York this weekend. Nine of Chicago’s next 14 games will be played on
the road, which will be a huge test for the young squad.

Will the Bulls strong play as of late carry over into the tough schedule that
faces them?

“It definitely gives us a lot of confidence going into this tougher schedule,”
said Chandler. “We just have to go out there and play hard. It’s good that
we’re jelling together.”

Chicago started the 2004-05 campaign with nine straight losses. Skiles was
able to steer the Bulls in the right direction and get them to start playing
team basketball. This could be a young club that is finally starting to mature
into a winning team.