Chicago 101, New York 96

CHICAGO, Dec. 14 (AP) -- Luol Deng figures the Chicago Bulls will find that elusive consistency at some point, and maybe then, they'll start to resemble a playoff contender.

For now, they're struggling.

"Everybody knows what we're capable of doing,'' Deng said after Friday's 101-96 win over the New York Knicks. "This season has been so up-and-down.''

So was Friday night's game.

Deng scored 29 points, Kirk Hinrich produced the second triple-double of his career, and the Bulls handed New York its fifth straight loss. But instead of celebrating a routine win, Chicago let out a big sigh of relief after watching a 16-point fourth-quarter lead shrink to 3 in the final minute. Hinrich hit four free throws in the final 23 seconds and Ben Gordon added two more to help seal the win.

"We are not playing the same way as last year, but I think we're in the right (direction),'' said Andres Nocioni, who had 17 points and five blocks.

The Bulls led 84-68 and 88-72, before Zach Randolph hit a jumper with 4:45 left to cap a 10-point spurt. The lead was back at 10 -- 92-82 -- with 2:26 left thanks to two jumpers by Deng and two shot-clock violations by the Knicks.

New York wasn't finished, though.

Randolph's 3-pointer made it 95-92 with 25 seconds left, and the Bulls were still sweating after Hinrich hit two free throws because New York's Nate Robinson answered with a layup.

Finally, Gordon converted both free throws to make it 99-94 with 16.2 seconds left, and Hinrich hit two more with 8.4 remaining.

"We're not going to take credit for being something we're not at this moment,'' said Fred Jones, who scored 22 points for the Knicks. "Right now, we're 6-16. Until we come together as a unit and understand that, we're not going to be any better. We have to understand the situation we're in and fight it.''

It was another disappointing loss for New York.

And it was a much-needed win for the Bulls, who saw a 16-point lead at Indiana two nights earlier turn into a 21-point deficit and, ultimately, a 117-102 loss.

Deng scored 23 points in the second half, and finished with 10 rebounds.

Hinrich scored 15 points, tied a season-high with 14 assists and set one with 12 rebounds. His only other triple-double was against Golden State on Feb. 28, 2004.

Randolph led New York with 27 points and 15 rebounds. Jones hit 4 of 6 3-pointers, and Jamal Crawford scored 18.

Stephon Marbury missed his third straight game, and forward Quentin Richardson sat out with a strained tendon in his right knee after missing the second half of Wednesday's 117-110 loss to Seattle.

Former Bulls player Eddy Curry missed all five shots he took and did not score. He spent most of the first quarter on the bench after picking up two fouls in the game's first 2:46 and played a total of 13:19.

Coach Isiah Thomas said the matchups dictated the limited time, that the Bulls were "playing smaller and quicker, and we were trying to get a little more pace in the game.''

But clearly, this was not a good night for Curry.

He had two dunks in the second quarter blocked by Nocioni, although his teammates also had trouble getting off their shots. The Bulls had an NBA season-high 15 rejections and Nocioni finished with five. Ben Wallace, Hinrich and Joakim Noah blocked three apiece.

"We did a nice job collapsing and out of that, we got turnovers and we blocked some shots,'' coach Scott Skiles said.

Notes: Bulls F Tyrus Thomas served a one-game suspension for striking the Pacers' Troy Murphy during the second quarter of Wednesday's game at Indiana. Thomas took exception to a hard foul by Murphy and responded by shoving him in the face. Murphy swung back, resulting in a $10,000 fine. "I didn't really have a problem with it,'' Skiles said. "I've looked at it so many times. Tough call.'' ... Hinrich was 4-for-4 from the foul line and has made 27 consecutive free throws, the longest active streak in the NBA. He is also 43-of-45 for a league-best 95.6 percent.

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