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.
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.
|Kirk Hinrich (right) displays shooting touch, in addition to rebounding and passing skills. (Getty Images)|
|New York (6-16)||19||26||19||32||96|
|Chicago (8-13) «||23||25||25||28||101|
|NY:Z. Randolph 27 Pts
NY:Z. Randolph 15 Reb
NY:F. Jones 6 Ast
|CHI:L. Deng 29 Pts
CHI:K. Hinrich 12 Reb
CHI:K. Hinrich 14 Ast
|Players of the Game|
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|J. Crawford, SG||44||7-22||2-2||5||5||3||18|
|F. Jones, SG||41||7-13||4-5||1||6||4||22|
|Z. Randolph, PF||40||10-21||6-6||15||5||3||27|
|J. Jeffries, PF||22||2-4||0-4||3||0||2||5|
|E. Curry, C||13||0-5||0-0||3||1||2||0|
|D. Lee, PF||25||4-7||4-4||3||0||0||12|
|M. Collins, PG||23||0-3||0-0||3||4||2||0|
|R. Balkman, PF||15||2-3||0-0||5||0||4||4|
|W. Chandler, SF||8||3-7||0-0||3||1||1||6|
|M. Rose, PF||5||0-1||0-0||2||1||0||0|
|N. Robinson, PG||3||1-1||0-0||0||0||1||2|
|S. Marbury, PG||Did Not Play|
|J. James, PF||Did Not Play|
|Q. Richardson, SF||Did Not Play|
|R. Morris, C||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|
|K. Hinrich, PG||46||5-12||4-4||12||14||2||15|
|L. Deng, SF||44||13-19||3-4||10||2||2||29|
|B. Wallace, C||33||1-4||0-0||10||0||2||2|
|B. Gordon, SG||28||4-11||3-3||5||2||2||11|
|J. Smith, PF||21||4-12||0-0||5||1||1||8|
|A. Nocioni, SF||28||6-13||2-4||2||3||2||17|
|C. Duhon, PG||22||2-5||4-4||0||4||2||9|
|J. Noah, PF||17||4-7||2-2||2||0||4||10|
|A. Griffin, SG||Did Not Play|
|V. Khryapa, SF||Did Not Play|
|T. Sefolosha, SG||Did Not Play|
|T. Thomas, PF||Did Not Play|
|J. Curry, PG||Did Not Play|
|A. Gray, C||Did Not Play|
|D. Nichols, SF||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|