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Archive for Saturday, April 30, 2005

Bulls pulling out of NBA scrap heap

With unlikely cast of rookies and castoffs, Chicago players are making it cool to care

April 30, 2005

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— NBA teams aren't supposed to be scrappy. A league awash in glitz and slick marketing isn't supposed to have teams with as many floor burns as tattoos. Disinterest, even if it's feigned by players, sells to the all-important 13- to 17-year-old, filled-with-angst-but-still-getting-money-from-Mom demographic.

The Bulls aren't any of that. They're engaged, they care and they make no apologies for it. They showed it again Wednesday night in a 113-103 victory over Washington to take a 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven series. That's not a shot at the Wizards, who also played hard. But the Bulls are a bunch of rookies, castoffs and other disparate parts led by a coach who's so serious, he could make a monk question his commitment. How are they doing this?

If you had to choose between "scrappy" and "hip-hop" to describe Kirk Hinrich, you probably would be safe picking "scrappy." Yet that was the former Kansas University standout in the fourth quarter, skipping to the Bulls' bench following a three-pointer and an ensuing Washington timeout. The Bulls were up 20 points, and there was Hinrich doing a little woofing while the United Center crowd roared.

Do scrappy players score 34 points? Do they take apart defenses with precision shooting?

If they do, then scrappy needs to be redefined. Scrappy is pretty cool.

Things will be different in Washington for Game 3 because they always are on the road, but that's for today. This is the time for appreciating a team that refused to cave in Wednesday night, though the Bulls threw the ball away enough down the stretch to make you briefly question that refusal.

So the question needs to be asked again: How are the Bulls doing this?

"It's hard to explain," Hinrich said. "If you're just a fan watching the game you probably can't believe how successful we are. Sometimes we have the most awkward lineups in there. Everybody just goes out and plays hard."

But Jannero Pargo? I think we all knew it was a matter of time before he went off, right? He helped get the Bulls into the game with eight first-half points.

"I'm not afraid to go to the bench," Bulls coach Scott Skiles said.

"Their role players made it hard," Washington coach Eddie Jordan said.

This is the team without the injured Eddy Curry and Luol Deng, the team whose playoff position was supposed to be prone because of their absence.

And yet here the Bulls are.

One of the most impressive things about their victory Wednesday was that everyone in the place knew the Wizards' Gilbert Arenas was going to bounce back in a big way from a miserable Game 1. You knew there would be a reckoning. The only question was whether that reckoning would be enough to do in the Bulls. A few of us reckoned it would be.

He scored 39 points Wednesday on 14-of-25 shooting from the floor. And still lost.

Even though the Bulls did everything they could to make sure one player didn't beat them, the truth is that they had to make sure they didn't beat themselves.

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