The young Chicago Bulls are beginning to learn what it takes to be an NBA playoff contender.
Chicago looks to continue its unlikely postseason push when it visits the expansion Charlotte Bobcats.
The Bulls beat the Washington Wizards 97-90 on Friday for their fifth win in six games. The victory moved Chicago a season high-tying four games above .500, and clinched a third consecutive winning month. The Bulls began the season 0-9 and managed just one victory in November.
“We just want to keep it going. A lot of us hasn’t been in (this) position so far in our careers. How we handle it is going to depend on how well we do,” said Bulls’ second-year guard Kirk Hinrich, who scored a team-high 26 points.
“Hopefully we can stay levelheaded and keep getting better.”
Rookie Ben Gordon added 20 points off the bench for the Bulls, who start two first-year players—Chris Duhon and Luol Deng. First-year reserve forward Andres Nocioni has also been getting a considerable number of minutes.
Gordon has scored at least 10 points in the fourth quarter of an NBA-best 16 games, but was held scoreless in the final period Friday.
“A lot of us have come from winning programs (in college), we have played in big-time games, we played in sold-out arenas. All we had to do was get adjusted to the NBA league,” said Duhon, who scored 11 points.
Chicago has climbed into sixth place in the Eastern Conference playoff race, a half-game ahead of Orlando. The eighth and final spot is held by Indiana, which is one game back of the Bulls.
The Bobcats lost 93-86 to New Jersey on Friday for their second straight defeat and ninth in 10 games. Gerald Wallace scored a team-high 23 points for the Bobcats, while Primoz Brezec added 14 and rookie Emeka Okafor had six points and 10 rebounds.
Charlotte traded guard Steve Smith to the Miami Heat for forward Malik Allen and cash considerations before Thursday’s trade deadline. Charlotte placed guard Matt Carroll on the injured list with a sprained finger to make room for Allen, who had not yet reported to the Bobcats as of Friday.
Allen is averaging 5.9 points and 3.7 rebounds in 14 games this season. He underwent back surgery to relieve back spasms on Dec. 1 and was out until Feb. 11.
“Malik is another young player with a big body who is versatile enough to play a couple of different positions in the frontcourt,” coach Bernie Bickerstaff said.
STANDINGS (through Feb. 24): Bulls - 3rd place, 5 1/2 GB, Central Division. Bobcats - 4th place, 26 1/2 GB, Southeast Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Bulls - Hinrich, 15.9 ppg and 6.9 apg; Chandler, 9.3 rpg. Bobcats - Okafor, 14.6 ppg and 10.9 rpg; Knight, 8.6 apg.
SEASON SERIES: Bulls, 1-0.
LAST MEETING: Jan. 27; Bulls, 101-93. At Chicago, reserve Jannero Pargo scored all 14 of his points in the fourth quarter and Nocioni added a team-high 17 off the bench for the Bulls. Rush had 24 points for the Bobcats, who got just four points and four rebounds from Okafor.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Bulls - 10-14 on the road; Bobcats - 9-17 at home.