If there's any silver lining to the Bulls' slow start other than, say, lower scalper prices, it's that their poor play hasn't buried them in a supposedly improved Eastern Conference.
Somehow, the Bulls are a mere 1½ games out of the eighth and final playoff spot after Tuesday night's 123-96 blowout of the SuperSonics, the NBA schedule-makers' version of a get-well card.
Granted, the Bulls goals' were far loftier 19 games ago. But if they can play anything like they did against one of the NBA's bottom-feeders more consistently, another rally will happen.
"This," veteran Joe Smith said, "is something we really needed."
Ben Gordon's 27 points led a spirited Bulls effort in which all 12 active players scored and the Bulls shot 53.7 percent.
Smith, even tossing in left-handed jump hooks, added a season-high 19 points on 8-for-10 shooting and Kirk Hinrich looked like himself with 15 points, eight assists, six rebounds and zero turnovers.
"We made really good decisions offensively," coach Scott Skiles said. "We drove when we should drive. We shot our jumpers when we should have. We were good on the break. When we were covered, we put the ball on the deck and moved it quickly. We didn't fumble balls."
The Bulls hit the century mark with a whopping 10 minutes 5 seconds to play, allowing Skiles to rest his starters with the second of two straight games on tap Wednesday in Indianapolis. Gordon was the last to leave, at the same time the Bulls hit 100 points.
The Bulls were aggressive right from the tip, getting defensive stops and looking to push the ball upcourt at every opportunity. They finished with 21 fast-break points.
"Running harder and more consistently has been a focal point," Hinrich said. "When we do run with an attack mentality, good things happen for us."
Gordon, coming off a second half against the Celtics in which he missed all 10 of his shots, drained 6 of 7 first-quarter attempts.
The Bulls broke the game open with a 14-2 run in the second quarter sparked by Smith's six points and an energetic 11-minute run by forgotten man Tyrus Thomas, who passed Joakim Noah in the rotation in the second half.
"I came out and tried to play hard," Thomas said.
Smith has helped stabilize the starting rotation, averaging 11.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in his four games since entering the lineup. That's what veterans do.
"I haven't tried to do anything differently," Smith said. "Whether I've come off the bench or started, we've run pick-and-rolls and I've got some touches on the block. I just take the shot that's given to me and defensively try to be as aggressive and active as I can be."
The Bulls, who also got a quiet 20 points from Luol Deng, led by as many as 32 points. Rookie Kevin Durant's 16 points topped the Sonics.
The Bulls recorded season-highs for points, points in a half (67 in the first), field goals (51) and assists (35) in enjoying their first 20-points-plus blowout of the season.
Smiles haven't been too prevalent in this Bulls season, although one glance at how slowly other Eastern Conference teams have started could cheer them up.
"That could be if we want to take advantage of it," Skiles said. "Some teams are going to for sure at some point. We lose a game and we look at the standings and even though we're in last place [in the Central Division], we're out of nothing yet. So hopefully we can get on a run at some point and make up ground quickly."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun