Bulls come up big too

Tribune staff reporter

Things were different Sunday at the United Center for reasons that had little to do with the noon starting time.

The Bulls hired a Chinese interpreter to help with ticket requests at the box office. The onslaught of media requests rivaled the number for Michael Jordan's appearance.

And a raucous sellout crowd of 22,052 cheered Houston's Yao Ming almost as eagerly as it had Jordan, giving the matinee a playoff atmosphere.

The Bulls, with five straight road games, don't play again at home until Feb. 11.

Perhaps by then they will be selling out games on their own merit rather than relying on the drawing power of Jordan and Yao.

A thrilling 100-98 victory over Houston, the Bulls' fifth straight win at home, is another case for that scenario to begin.

The Bulls improved to 15-7 at the United Center on Marcus Fizer's 10-foot jumper with 4/10ths of a second left. Fizer muscled up the shot after a broken play that Houston guard Steve Francis called "a fluke" and Jalen Rose called "beautiful."

No matter the description, Fizer's shot gave the Bulls their 17th victory, something they didn't achieve last season until March 16 and didn't top in either of the previous two seasons.

"We didn't play our best game," coach Bill Cartwright said, "but we were able to hang in and win."

Rose led the Bulls with 29 points and contributed seven rebounds and five assists. Donyell Marshall added 17 points and 10 rebounds, and Fizer scored 12 points.

Yao, greeted with several signs in the 300 level, finished with 14 points and eight rebounds in 32 minutes. He hit all three of his fourth-quarter shots to help Houston rally.

"He's a big human being," said Tyson Chandler, who guarded the 7-foot-5-inch center early. "Once he gets position, there's not much you can do about it."

Houston trailed 98-93 when Francis hit two free throws with 53.1 seconds left. Following a Rose miss, Kelvin Cato grabbed back-to-back offensive rebounds off missed three-pointers, and the ball eventually got to Cuttino Mobley.

The Rockets guard drove the lane, scored and drew Marshall's sixth foul, tacking on the free throw to tie the game 98-98 with 12.6 seconds left.

After a timeout, Rose lost the ball while driving on James Posey. Fizer came away from the ensuing scrum with the ball and quickly tossed up the winner.

"Jalen promised coach that we were going to get a shot up because we didn't [at the buzzer] in Orlando," Fizer said. "I knew if there was any way I could get to the ball, I was going to get the shot up."

Rose then tipped away a lob intended for Cato at the buzzer on Houston's inbounds play.

After closing the first half on the short end of an 18-5 run that included four turnovers, the Bulls opened the second with a 14-0 run. Because of that, because of 95 percent free-throw shooting and thanks to seven turnovers by Francis, who led Houston with 26 points, they hung on.

"This is big time," Rose said. "It establishes a pattern of success. And that's not something many players here are used to."

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