Bulls 120, Pacers 110
Luol Deng realizes tougher tests are coming, that the schedule is about to take a difficult turn. If the Chicago Bulls keep this up, that would be just fine with him.
Deng scored a season-high 31 points, and the Bulls pulled away for a wild 120-110 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night after blowing an early 23-point lead.
Derrick Rose added 23 points and eight assists while tying a season high with nine rebounds as the Bulls won for the seventh time in nine games. They've picked on weaker opponents during this run. That's about to change, though.
They meet Portland on Friday, and after closing out the month at Indiana on Saturday, March opens with this brutal stretch: Atlanta, Memphis, Dallas and Utah all at the United Center, then trips to Orlando, Miami, Memphis and Dallas before hosting Cleveland.
In other words: Ouch.
``The schedule will get tough, but we're confident in the team that we have,'' Deng said. ``When we play our best, we feel like we can play with anybody.''
The Bulls were at their best in spurts on Wednesday.
They led by 23 in the first quarter and were up 19 going into the second, only to watch it all disappear. Then, with a 58-54 halftime lead, they broke it open in the third and sent Indiana to its sixth loss in seven games.
``In the first quarter, down by 23 - hard to do that on the road and come back and get a win,'' Pacers coach Jim O'Brien said. ``We came back in the second quarter but didn't have what it took in the second half.''
The Pacers' Danny Granger finished with 20 points after missing Monday's loss at Dallas for personal reasons. Brandon Rush hit 5-of-9 3-pointers and scored a season-high 21, including 12 in the second quarter as Indiana outscored Chicago 36-21 to get back into the game.
Then, the Bulls pulled away again and stopped any flashbacks to their epic collapse against Sacramento in December, when they blew a 35-point lead and lost.
This time, they got a reverse layup from Brad Miller and jumper from Rose to start the second half. A few minutes later, the Bulls went on a 12-3 run that Deng finished with a 3-pointer, making it 83-67 midway through the third and putting them in control to stay.
``You should have seen (Deng) earlier,'' Rose said. ``He had a lot of Ben Gay and other stuff he was putting on his body. He looked like an old man, but he went out there and played through it.''
Early on, this looked like another blowout at the United Center for Chicago, which had scored two of its most lopsided wins in its previous two home games. After tying a season high with a 33-point win over New York and beating Philadelphia by 32, Chicago opened by hitting 13-of-23 shots in one of its most prolific quarters.
Deng scored 11 in the first, converting a three-point play and tip-in to start a 16-2 run that made it 35-12 and just about buried the Pacers.
Turns out, they had plenty of life after all.
The team that couldn't hit early on shot its way back in the second, making 10-of-20 field goals after going 7 of 24 in the first quarter.
Rush led the charge, nailing 4 of 5 3-pointers and connecting from the outside with two minutes left in the half to tie it at 52. Dahntay Jones answered a jumper by Chicago's Kirk Hinrich with two free throws to tie it again at 54 with 1:24 left, before a layup by Deng and jumper by Rose gave the Bulls a 58-54 halftime lead.
``I took a lot of wide-open 3s and the guys were looking for me,'' Rush said. ``And they just happened to go in.''
NOTES: Pacers F Mike Dunleavy missed the game because of food poisoning. ... Chicago's Joakim Noah, bothered by plantar fasciitis in his left foot, had five points in seven minutes - all in the first half. ``You look at the pros and look at the cons of everything,'' Noah, who recently missed seven games, said when asked about possibly taking some time off again. ``It's the end of the season right now. I know that playing basketball is the only thing that's going to get my conditioning right. But at the same time, I know I'm not going to be at 100 percent. I'm just trying to get back into the rhythm.''