"Whether we're in it or out of it, we're going to continue to play hard," interim coach Jim Boylan said.
The Bulls proved that with a stirring 101-98 comeback victory thanks to sizzling shooting from Ben Gordon and former Cav Larry Hughes, clutch defense from Joakim Noah and Thabo Sefolosha and solid ball movement.
More efforts like this and the Bulls' tragic number to be eliminated officially from the playoff race wouldn't stand at three games.
"Of course," Hughes said, when asked if winning in Cleveland, where he now is booed regularly, meant more. "We'll end up seeing these guys four times after the (Feb. 21) trade, so we want to win for bragging rights if nothing else."
The Bulls prevailed despite not scoring a field goal over the final 4 minutes 19 seconds, getting seven straight free throws by Gordon, who finished with 24 points.
They withstood their drought by holding LeBron James, who was battling back spasms, to one fourth-quarter point and blanking the Cavs over the final 3:30.
The Bulls took advantage of Ben Wallace missing a two-handed dunk and Sefolosha crowding James into a turnover on consecutive fourth-quarter possessions. That allowed Gordon to drain three free throws for a 99-98 lead with 1:42 remaining after Delonte West fouled him on a three-point attempt.
The teams traded four straight scoreless possessions before James had the ball in his hands and the game on the line. But Sefolosha forced him to his left with 5.9 seconds on the clock, where Noah recorded one of his three blocks. The rookie center also had 10 points and six rebounds.
"Jo played a lot of minutes and still made big plays down the stretch," Boylan said.
After Gordon added two free throws with 3.4 seconds left, James passed to a wide-open Daniel Gibson, who missed a game-tying three-pointer at the buzzer.
The Bulls trailed by 17 late in the third quarter when Hughes, who finished with 25 points, nine assists and eight rebounds, heated up with 15 points in the period.
"I've been working hard to finish this season strong," Hughes said. "My shot felt good right from the start."
James finished with a game-high 33 points but worked for everything down the stretch, thanks to Sefolosha's adhesive defense.
"I just tried to stay in front of him and make him drive because he was hitting big shots," Sefolosha said. "I guess I did an OK job."
The Bulls were better than OK.