A team strolled around the United Center floor Tuesday night with its collective chests puffed, a quiet confidence that it could overcome deficits to pull away and win at any time.
In recent seasons, that team used to be the Bulls, something Tyson Chandler knows well from his 2004-05 effort here. Now Chandler is on a Hornets team that carries itself with that certain winning aura.
New Orleans indeed pulled away late—and to within a half-game of Phoenix for the Western Conference's best mark—to post a 100-86 victory that sent the Bulls to a season-low 11 games below .500.
"We got our butts kicked in the fourth," guard Kirk Hinrich said.
Chandler, who received a mixture of boos and cheers during player introductions, finished with 16 rebounds and only four points. But his authoritative slam off an alley-oop from Chris Paul gave the Hornets an 83-80 lead and started their game-winning run.
After Thabo Sefolosha's lay-in made it 83-82, Paul buried a 30-foot heave at the shot-clock buzzer over Hinrich for a four-point Hornets edge.
After the teams traded scores, Chandler rebounded a Paul miss and Rasual Butler scored for a 90-84 lead. Paul, who had 25 points and 14 assists, then stripped Hinrich and threw a behind-the-back pass to David West for a fast-break dunk, the cue for the sellout crowd to start streaming out.
"He's an All-Star," interim Bulls coach Jim Boylan said of Paul. "I thought his performance was one of the better ones I've seen this year as far as controlling the team and game. He puts so much pressure on your defense."
Paul's consistent penetration helped set up Peja Stojakovic, who drained six three-pointers to tie West for team-high honors with 27 points.
The Hornets, who closed with a 19-6 run, are 18-7 on the road.
"It's unbelievable," Chandler said. "We have a lot of very good players. And it's not about any individual achievements as long as the team wins. That's obvious out there."
It's equally obvious the Bulls, who were booed off the court, continue to hurt themselves. Five of their 17 turnovers, which the Hornets converted into eight points, came in the fourth quarter.
The Bulls actually led 50-43 at halftime with Andres Nocioni scoring 17 of his game-high 28 points and Hinrich adding 13.
Those two players combined to score 22 of the Bulls' 27 first-quarter points.
Neither player was on the floor, however, when the Bulls grabbed some developmental minutes while staying afloat during the second quarter.
A lineup of Joakim Noah, Aaron Gray, Tyrus Thomas, Sefolosha and Chris Duhon extended a 31-28 led to 40-34 in the 4:56 they played together.
The Hornets righted themselves in the third, going on a 21-7 run to seize a 68-62 lead with Stojakovic scoring 13.
Thomas logged only eight minutes and didn't play the entire second half.
The Hornets did.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun