Chicago 108, Utah 96

CHICAGO, March 11 (AP) -- Appearances aside, the Chicago Bulls insist they're serious about making a playoff run. A few more nights like this might convince the doubters.

Drew Gooden tied a season high with 24 points, Ben Gordon added 19, and the Bulls beat Utah 108-96 on Tuesday night to snap the Jazz's five-game winning streak.

Gordon hit several key 3-pointers, including two late in the third quarter and one midway through the fourth after the Jazz pulled within 10. That was enough to offset strong performances by Utah's Mehmet Okur (22 points, 18 rebounds) and Deron Williams (20 points, 10 assists) and give the Bulls a much needed break from another round of drama.

"I'm sure some of us get tired of hearing about the negatives,'' said Chicago's Luol Deng, who had 14 points and eight rebounds.

And the volume was loud enough to pierce an eardrum before this game.

The Bulls often seem more interested in an early vacation than a playoff run, and the latest round of drama added more fuel to the doubts about this team's character.

Chris Duhon missed a shootaround at Detroit on Sunday and made some comments that didn't sit well with management after being held out of that game, following a turbulent week. He was inactive Tuesday in what interim coach Jim Boylan said was a "coach's decision.''

A win over the Northwest division leaders had the Bulls feeling a little better.

The Bulls built a 14-point lead in the second quarter, were ahead 55-42 at halftime, and led by as much as 17 in the third quarter. Although the Jazz tried to make things interesting, Chicago hung on.

The Bulls were leading by 11 late in the third when Utah's Matt Harpring had a basket negated by an offensive foul. Gordon then hit two 3-pointers in the final minute as the Bulls took an 86-71 lead into the fourth. He struck again after Utah pulled within 10 on Ronnie Brewer's free throw, burying a 3-pointer that made it 103-90 with just under five minutes remaining.

"If we're taking those shots at that part of the game, we have to make them because they're doing a great job putting pressure on us and attacking the basket,'' said Gooden, who had 10 rebounds and three blocks.

Utah's Andrei Kirilenko started and scored 12 points after missing three games with a sprained right hip following a hard foul by Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki on March 3. But the good vibe surrounding his return quickly evaporated.

The Jazz beat Minnesota, Phoenix and Denver by an average of 21 points without Kirilenko. They held a 4 1/2-game lead over the Nuggets in the Northwest division and trailed the Lakers by just 2 1/2 for the Western Conference's best record entering Tuesday's game.

But they were off target early on and never really recovered.

"They beat us with points in the paint (48-34),'' Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "They drove down the middle. We got out of the way and let them shoot layups. They were the aggressors from the beginning and we never did get to that point. We just tried to outscore them.''

And the Bulls are trying to answer a long line of questions.

"When people question our team, I respond that we have guys in the locker room with a lot of character who care about their craft and work at it,'' Boylan said. "The guys were hurt the last couple days. There were a lot of things swirling around our team, and no one likes to see that stuff in the paper. This is a basketball team, not a soap opera.''

Soap opera or not, this has been a season-long drama, and the Duhon episode wasn't the only twist within the past week. Tyrus Thomas decided to skip Wednesday's practice, drawing a two-game suspension from management, and rookie Aaron Gray reportedly mouthed off to Boylan during a game against Memphis last week.

Even so, the Bulls have a good shot at the playoff spot.

"I think this is a good team,'' Williams said.

Notes: Kirilenko said he didn't think Nowitzki, who got a one-game suspension, meant to hurt him. "I think Dirk was out of balance,'' Kirilenko said. ... The Jazz were 28-3 at home and just 14-19 on the road entering Tuesday's game, and Sloan had an explanation for the disparity. "I think it's the altitude,'' he said. "We're at 4,200 feet.'' He laughed. "Does that sound like a good reason? If it is, I'll use it.'' ... The Bulls' Thabo Sefolosha scored 11 points after missing six games with a strained left groin.


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