Chicago 84, Cleveland 78

CLEVELAND, Feb. 22 (AP) --Ben Wallace's hair was as uncontrollable as ever. For one of the few times since he changed teams, so was he.

Wallace scored 14 points with 19 rebounds, a season-high seven blocks and two huge free throws in the final minutes to lead the Chicago Bulls to an 84-78 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night.

Wallace, playing one of his best all-around games since signing as a free agent with the Bulls, dominated inside as Chicago snapped a six-game losing streak in Cleveland and improved to 8-2 in the Central.

"He was outstanding,'' Bulls coach Scott Skiles said of Wallace, who also had five assists in 44 minutes. "When he plays with that kind of effort, he can put up those kind of numbers. He was on from the beginning. We left him out there and he made big plays.''

Luol Deng scored 18 points, Ben Gordon 16 and Kirk Hinrich 11 for the Bulls, who overcame foul trouble and 24 turnovers. Trailing by three with less than seven minutes left, Chicago put away the Cavaliers with a 14-5 burst.

The Bulls, who had an uneven first half of the season, were playing their first of four games in five days against some of the Eastern Conference's top teams. On Friday, they'll host Washington before traveling to Detroit - Wallace's former stomping ground - on Sunday and hosting Orlando on Monday.

"We really needed this one, especially with our record (10-18) on the road,'' Deng said. "We need to start stepping it up a little bit.''

LeBron James scored 29 points and Larry Hughes had 20 for Cleveland, but the Cavaliers, the NBA's worst free-throw shooting team, were just 8-of-16 from the line. Chicago, meanwhile, was 12-of-12 from the stripe.

But the Cavaliers' biggest problem was that they couldn't handle Wallace. He didn't have to contend with Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and by being active on the boards, Wallace was able to foul out Anderson Varejao.

"He played inspired ball,'' James said. "He made some moves I haven't seen since he was in Detroit.''

Wallace didn't make a big deal of his big statistical night.

"All that stuff don't mean nothing if we can't get the win,'' he said. "We got the win, that's all that matters. But I do like the blocks.''

After a fadeaway jumper by Deng in the foul lane gave the Bulls a 78-73 lead, Wallace, a 41 percent free throw shooter, stepped up to the line and swished his only two attempts of the game.

Deng scored again to make it 82-73 before James hit a 3-pointer and scored on a follow to pull the Cavaliers within 82-78. However, Gordon made two more free throws with 13.7 seconds left to seal it.

The Cavaliers played their fourth straight game without Ilgauskas, who is attending to personal family health matters and may not rejoin the club until this weekend. Cleveland was also missing guard Sasha Pavlovic (flu) and guard Damon Jones (strep throat).

"We had three of our top eight guys inactive,'' James said. "It's going to be tough for us to win with those guys out. We didn't have that spunk we usually have with those guys coming off the bench.''

The Cavs overcame a 16-point deficit in the third quarter and took a 71-68 lead with 6:56 remaining on Donyell Marshall's 3-pointer.

But Deng took advantage of a mismatch and scored over rookie Daniel Gibson before hitting two free throws to out Chicago up 72-71. The Cavs misfired on their next two possessions, and the Bulls made them pay as Wallace scored twice underneath to give Chicago a 76-71 lead with 3:39 left.

"We did a great job of moving the ball around,'' Wallace said. "Everybody was playing together. When we play together like that and keep the game simple, good things usually happen for us.''

The Bulls, who held Atlanta without a field goal for the entire third quarter in a win on Tuesday, limited Cleveland to 4-of-19 shooting, nine points and just one shot per possession in the second quarter.

"That killed us,'' James said.

Chicago's Andres Nocioni returned after missing seven games with plantar fasciitis and scored five points in 15 minutes.

Notes: A moment of silence was observed before the game for Dennis Johnson, a former star guard who died Thursday. "He was a difficult player to play against,'' Skiles said. "It's sad.'' ... Brown said when Ilgauskas comes back he'll also return to Cleveland's starting lineup and Anderson Varejao will come off the bench. Ilgauskas started the club's first 51 games. ... James added another endorsement contract to his portfolio, signing a multiyear deal with Cub Cadet, manufacturer of lawn mowers, lawn tractors and snow throwers. James already has deals with Sprite, Nike, MSN, Bubblicious and Upper Deck. ... Cavs GM Danny Ferry was relieved Jason Kidd stayed with New Jersey and wasn't dealt to another Eastern Conference club. "If Jason Kidd was going to get traded, I was hoping he was going West,'' he cracked.


Copyright 2006 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited