Chicago 98, New York 69

CHICAGO, April 10 (AP) -- There was little drama during the game but plenty of it afterward.

The Chicago Bulls wasted no time putting away New York, moving a step closer to securing the second seed in the Eastern Conference by handing the Knicks their most lopsided loss of the season, 98-69 on Tuesday night.

Then, things got tense.

Nate Robinson, Jerome James and Steve Francis had words with the Bulls' Tyrus Thomas afterward.

"I think they were definitely trying to rub it in,'' said Eddy Curry, who spent his first four seasons with the Bulls. "But we'll see them next year.''

Fans get free Big Macs if the Bulls score 100. Chicago's Chris Duhon acknowledged they were trying to feed spectators but denied trying to run up the score. Thabo Sefolosha missed a 3-pointer with 1:04 left, and Duhon missed two in the final minute. Malik Allen also missed a layup with 10 seconds left.

"We just wanted to do something for the fans,'' Duhon said. "I don't cook, so I wanted one myself. We certainly didn't mean any disrespect.''

The Knicks didn't see it that way, though.

"As a veteran, I have been in the league long enough, and I know when people are trying to run up the score on you,'' Francis said. "And I told their players, if I was in the game, it would've been something different. If it was a threat or whatever, I'm a veteran. I won't do that to nobody, and I don't expect nobody to try to do that to younger players on my team, so that's what it was.''

Second in the Eastern Conference, the Bulls (47-32) lead fifth-place Cleveland by a half-game and Atlantic Division winner Toronto by 1. Chicago owns the tiebreaker over both teams and has clinched home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

The Bulls still have an outside shot at the No. 1 seed, but one more loss by Chicago or a win by Detroit would clinch it for the Pistons.

"We did well to put that game away early,'' said Luol Deng, who scored 15 points. "It's a good win. It's important because we want to finish second. Now, we just have to focus on our next opponent.''

Ben Gordon scored 23 points, and the Bulls turned 25 turnovers into 30 points.

The Bulls and Cleveland appeared to be in a two-team race for the second seed, with the loser dropping to fifth. But with Toronto on a roll, the third seed is also a possibility.

Robinson scored 24 points for New York (32-46), which lost for the sixth time in seven games. Curry committed two offensive fouls in the opening 1:44 and finished with just four points and seven rebounds.

With four games left, the 10th-place Knicks still have a remote shot at the postseason, but they have to climb over Orlando and Indiana to grab a playoff spot. Against Chicago, they were simply overmatched.

Four of the Knicks' top five scorers - guard Stephon Marbury (sprained right big toe), guard Jamal Crawford (right ankle stress fracture), forward Quentin Richardson (back surgery) and forward David Lee (right leg pain) - were nursing injuries. New York was also without forward Renaldo Balkman, who stayed home with a stomach virus and missed his second consecutive game.

Things quickly unraveled against the Bulls.

Curry, New York's leading scorer, headed to the sideline after picking up those offensive fouls. The Knicks committed seven turnovers in the first 4:01. New York also missed nine of its first 10 shots, which probably explains why Curry checked back in midway through the quarter with the score 12-2.

It was 21-10 after the first quarter and 45-27 at halftime.

"I have never been accused of running up the score,'' Bulls coach Scott Skiles said. "From everything I hear, the Knicks are on the verge of becoming a great team. So they are probably a team we will be playing over and over again the years to come. Something like this should not fester.''

But Curry accused his former coach of doing just that. Asked if he was surprised Skiles would allow the Bulls to run up the score, Curry said, "No, I'm not. I'm not surprised.''

Notes: The Bulls' most lopsided victory was a 111-66 win over Memphis on Jan. 13. The 66 points were a season-low for an opponent. ... New York's worst defeat before this game was a 123-100 loss to Denver on Dec. 16. ... Bulls F Andres Nocioni, making his first appearance at the United Center since Jan. 27, received a loud ovation when he checked in late in the first quarter. Nocioni had missed 28 of 29 games because of plantar fasciitis in his right foot before returning Sunday at Toronto.


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