Chicago 101, Cleveland 98

CLEVELAND, April 3, 2008 (AP) -- Hunched over an ice-filled tub as he soaked his ankles and feet, LeBron James rubbed his forehead and groaned.

The back spasms weren't relenting.

They kept coming back -- just like the Chicago Bulls.

Ben Gordon made five clutch free throws down the stretch and Larry Hughes scored 19 of his 25 points in the second half against his former team, rallying the Bulls to a 101-98 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night.

The Bulls, with nothing to play for in the season's final weeks, overcame a 17-point deficit in the second half and snapped a six-game road losing streak.

Hughes, traded by the Cavaliers to Chicago at the Feb. 21 deadline, added nine assists and eight rebounds in 45 minutes. Gordon scored 24 points and Luol Deng and Andres Nocioni had 15 each.

James scored 33 to lead Cleveland, but with his back tightening, he scored just one point in the fourth and missed all five field-goal tries. With their go-to-superstar unable to cut, jump and move as usual, the Cavaliers scored only 13 points in the final 12 minutes.

"It was tough to do some of the things that I wanted to do," he said.

Still, the Cavaliers had a chance to take the lead in the closing seconds. But James, the NBA's leading scorer, drove the left side and was short on a double-pumping layup with 5.9 seconds to go. James as well as coach Mike Brown felt he was fouled by rookie Joakim Noah, who stepped in front to contest the shot.

"I went up and got hit on the arm," James said. "But that's not why we lost the game."

Following James' miss, Gordon was fouled and made two free throws with 3.4 seconds remaining to put the Bulls ahead by three.

Cleveland had one last chance, but after catching a pass from James, Daniel Gibson missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer before the horn.

The Bulls' season has been a complete disaster, but they never quit against a Cleveland team still trying to secure home-court advantage in the first round.

"It says a lot about our guys to get down 17 on the road against a team like this and fight our way back," interim coach Jim Boylan said.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas scored 23 points for the Cavaliers, who are trying to nail down the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Trailing since early in the second quarter, the Bulls finally caught the Cavs and took the lead at 99-98 with 1:42 left when Gordon knocked down three straight free throws after being fouled by Delonte West while attempting a 3-pointer.

Gordon's free throws came shortly after Cavs center Ben Wallace blew a wide-open dunk. As the ball clanged off the iron, a loud gong inadvertently sounded in the arena, usually a sound effect reserved for one of Big Ben's blocks.

James, who fouled out of Thursday's win at Charlotte, left the floor in the fourth quarter to get treatment on his back. He winced in obvious pain when he walked to the bench for a timeout with 5:22 left, and instead of sitting in a chair, knelt as Brown discussed strategy with his team.

James scored just one point and went 0-for-5 in the fourth as his back tightened up.

Leading by 10 at half, Cleveland was poised to put the Bulls away in the third, building a 17-point lead on a jumper by James.

But Hughes wasn't going to let his former team embarrass his new one. He scored 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting and added four assists in the third quarter as Chicago, fueled by an 11-2 run, closed to 85-77 entering the fourth quarter.

Hughes was booed after every basket by Cavaliers fans, who were tough on him during an inconsistent and injury-riddled stint with Cleveland.

"I don't have a lot of complaints about the boos," said Hughes, who didn't take any extra satisfaction in knocking off his ex-teammates. "That's the stuff you normally hear. We felt we had a good chance to win this game. It feels good because we won."

Notes: Bulls F Drew Gooden, part of the 11-player swap at the deadline between Cleveland, Chicago and Seattle, missed his third straight game with a strained abdominal muscle.


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