LeBron James torches Bulls yet again

Tribune reporter

Not only do the Bulls no longer have a crowded backcourt, the number of their available players is dwindling as well.

With Kirk Hinrich, Drew Gooden, Larry Hughes and Michael Ruffin injured and in street clothes, the Bulls dressed just 10 players Saturday night.

Unfortunately, LeBron James wasn't one of them.

For the second time in four days, King James scored 41 points and this time broke the Bulls' backs with two three-pointers in 26 seconds after the Bulls twice pulled within a one-possession game late in Cleveland's 106-97 triumph.

"Every time we looked up, he hit a big shot," Ben Gordon said.

Trailing by 13 midway through the fourth after surrendering a 23-3 run, the Bulls clawed back behind Gordon's 29 points and Derrick Rose's 17 points and nine assists.

Gordon's 11-foot jumper brought the Bulls within 96-94 before James drained his first 26-foot bomb with 1:54 remaining. After two Gordon free throws, James swished a 24-footer for a six-point lead, all but sealing the Bulls' first home loss.

"Once I get into a zone like that, it don't matter if I get doubled or tripled," James said. "They brought the double team a couple of times, and I was still able to get shots up.

"They play me like every other team. They go under pick-and-rolls and allow me to shoot from the outside. I accepted that challenge."

Earlier, James helped erase the Bulls' 10-point third-quarter lead, scoring eight straight to open the fourth. The run included a step-back three-pointer and a reverse layup over his head.

"We tried to change up defenses on him a few times," Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said. "You can't double him every time because he picks you apart and then other guys get involved."

With Hinrich needing surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb, Del Negro started Gordon for the first time this season alongside Rose.

Gooden sat with a sore right ankle, returning Tyrus Thomas to the lineup with Luol Deng and Aaron Gray up front. Gray, however, didn't leave the bench in the second half as Joakim Noah logged heavy minutes.

"The starters aren't engraved in stone," Del Negro reiterated.

Nevertheless, Gordon and Rose talked excitedly about their pairing.

"I assume the combination of me and him is something they envisioned," Gordon said. "I think it will work well."

It would have worked better if the Bulls could have solved James, who also had a game-high 13 rebounds.

"He ain't showed me nothing yet," the Cavs' Ben Wallace said, laughing. "But when he plays like that, all we try to do is get out of his way."

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