Backcourt wizardry

Tribune staff reporter

Thursday morning, Bulls coach Scott Skiles asked his players if they were content with merely exceeding expectations or if more consistent play—and thus more victories—is their goal.

His players gave a strong, if partial, answer Friday night at the United Center.

Playing with passion, energy and purpose, the Bulls held on to defeat the Washington Wizards 97-90 before a sellout crowd of 22,708.

The Bulls almost blew a 10-point lead in the final 2 minutes 20 seconds, failing to score on five straight possessions and leading just 90-88 after Antawn Jamison drained a three-pointer with one minute to play.

But Tyson Chandler, not exactly Mr. Offense, took a pass from Chris Duhon and banked in a tough shot with 42.6 seconds left as he was fouled by Michael Ruffin.

"I was the open guy," Chandler said, smiling.

Chandler, who had another strong defensive game, missed the ensuing free throw. That allowed Ruffin to split a pair of free throws with 38.7 seconds to play after he got fouled on a fast break.

But the Bulls rendered the final seconds window dressing by breaking pressure and having Kirk Hinrich penetrate to feed Antonio Davis for a dunk with 25.6 seconds left.

Hinrich scored 26 points, Ben Gordon added 20 and Duhon 11 points and eight assists to lead a dominant night for the Bulls' backcourt.

The victory guaranteed the Bulls their third straight winning month, no small feat for a franchise that hadn't experienced one in 35 straight months until December.

February's 11-game schedule looked brutal on paper, too, with eight of 11 games on the road and seven against teams with winning records. The Bulls are 6-4 going into Saturday night's game in Charlotte.

"We're hungry to keep this going," Hinrich said. "If we stay level-headed and realize we can get better, we'll be OK."

Skiles put the achievement more succinctly.

"I don't think we should be getting any medals for it," he said.

About the only downers were Eddy Curry sleepwalking his way through another listless game and 20 more turnovers for the league's worst offenders in that department.

Curry had five points and one rebound in 23 minutes.

The Bulls committed nine turnovers in the opening quarter, which began with Davis reclaiming his starting spot from Othella Harrington.

But Harrington was instrumental in a 17-2, second-quarter run that gave the Bulls some momentum. Harrington scored eight points and Gordon added seven of his 12 second-quarter points, his 27th double-digit quarter this season.

Harrington finished with 12 points and took four charges.

"I have to give 'O' a lot of credit," Skiles said. "He's having a great year for us. I go to him this morning and tell him what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. It doesn't faze him. He comes out and has a great game."

Gilbert Arenas led Washington with 36 points and seven assists. Jamison added 19 points and 10 rebounds but shot just 7 of 23.

"Our defense was much, much better," Skiles said. "We had live legs and reacted well."

They did so to Skiles' Thursday speech as well.

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