After Jalen Rose sank the first of two free throws with two seconds left Monday night, he turned to the sellout crowd of 20,801 at the First Union Center and shook his head as if to say, "Not tonight."
This is the type of player the Bulls have lacked--one with the skill to back up his swagger.
Derrick McKey in a one-on-one situation, gave the Bulls a 98-96 victory, their third straight on the road after winning four in their first 37 tries. The Bulls (21-60) also no longer own the league's worst record, leading Golden State by a half-game in the race for a chance at the most Ping-Pong balls.
The comeback victory--the Bulls trailed by as many as 12--came against basically Philadelphia's second string. Allen Iverson, Derrick Coleman and Aaron McKie sat with injuries, and coach Larry Brown gave Dikembe Mutombo a night to rest his left knee, in which he has tendinitis.
That accounts for four of Philadelphia's top six scorers and its top two rebounders. But it didn't make the loss any more palatable for the 76ers, who now have little chance for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
A similar situation occurred in the final game last season when Brown rested starters, the Bulls won and Philadelphia lost home-court advantage in the NBA Finals because of it.
"We'll take it," coach Bill Cartwright said.
The Bulls led 96-94 after Tyson Chandler hit one of his two free throws with 21.3 seconds left. But Travis Best, who had just scored six straight points, fouled out as he hacked Eric Snow on a three-pointer with 14.7 seconds to go.
Snow, who led Philadelphia with 21 points, hit the first two free throws but missed the third, setting up Rose's heroics. Rose led all scorers with 32.
"No matter the situation, he can make a play," Best said of Rose. "If guys double, he handles the ball well enough to find open people. If he gets a look at the basket, you feel good about that too."
Jamal Crawford and Eddy Curry added 14 and 12 points, respectively, as the Bulls survived 23 turnovers and a lackluster first-half defensive effort that allowed just-activated Jabari Smith to score a career-high 14.
Such details make Cartwright more demonstrative on the sideline than he wants to be. He sits more than stands and glowers more than guides.
"You want to have faith in these guys," he said. "But the reality is, being their age, maybe you have to get on them or call a timeout quicker than you would because they're too young to recognize what that is."
Still, no matter Cartwright's high standards on self-analysis, the coach has at least approached a comfort zone in his 54-game tenure since taking over for Tim Floyd on Dec. 28. Cartwright's record is 17-37.
"I've still got a lot to learn as far as dealing with plays and situations, but I do feel more comfortable," Cartwright said. "I think I can be myself. I think the guys know me a little bit.
"If a guy is [messing up], I'll get on him. I prefer the players get on themselves, but that's something they're not ready for yet because they're too young. Sometimes you come in and they don't have energy or focus and you have to give it to them."
Rose has no problem with that philosophy--or with Cartwright.
"What I like about Bill is he gets a lot across without saying much," Rose said.
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