Like truckers at tollbooths and school buses dropping off elementary schoolchildren, the Bulls have encountered plenty of speed bumps this season.
The latest are more injuries as Tyrus Thomas sat with a sprained left foot and Kirk Hinrich left in the fourth quarter with bruised ribs. Not to mention an inability to establish consistently the up-tempo offensive attack so emphasized when interim coach Jim Boylan first took over.
That's why Monday night's 118-108 victory over the SuperSonics proved so vital.
Beyond snapping a two-game skid on this six-game trip that continues with three tough games, the Bulls tallied 15 fast-break points and also destroyed the Sonics on the offensive boards, scoring 26 second-chance points off 23 offensive rebounds.
"It's been a tough start to the road trip, but we did a good job as a unit moving the ball and getting stops defensively," Smith said. "We needed this."
The Bulls didn't need another injury, and Hinrich went straight to a local hospital for precautionary tests to rule out internal damage. He will meet the team Tuesday in Portland.
In his first double-digit scoring game in six outings, Smith's 25 points led the Bulls, who might've made their final Key Arena appearance as Sonics ownership and city officials haggle over a move to Oklahoma City.
The Bulls prevailed against a Sonics team that had endured a franchise-record, 14-game losing streak to hold the Spurs, Cavaliers and Knicks to combined 42 percent shooting in three straight victories.
How fitting. That's the league-worst percentage the Bulls entered with, thanks to an offensive attack that struggles to get easy baskets and takes far too many contested shots.
"We've had guys out and different lineups," Hinrich said. "We still try to make plays for each other. We haven't been as successful at that this season. We have a tendency to hold on to it and try to do too much.
"We've also been struggling stopping teams. A big part of getting out and running is being able to get stops. When you're taking the ball out of the net, it's hard to establish tempo."
The Bulls topped the century mark on a putback by Aaron Gray with just over 5 minutes remaining, the 12th time in 21 games since Boylan took over. They also had been 0-18 in games allowing 100 or more points.
Injuries to Ben Gordon, who has returned and scored 20 points, and Luol Deng, who remains out indefinitely with left Achilles tendinitis, haven't helped. Losing Thomas, who tested his injury in individual warm-ups but couldn't go, is less damaging.
"Our mentality is the same," Boylan said. "We'd like to get the ball out as quick as we can and get into our offense."
The Bulls weren't slouches in the halfcourt game either. Smith, fully recovered from the flu, returned as a starter to bury jumpers early and Gray gobbled up Thomas' minutes with strong post moves and 14 points.
"This was a total team effort," Boylan said.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun