The Chicago Bulls looked sharp in their first game after the All-Star break. They’ll need another strong effort Thursday to win at Cleveland, where they’ve lost six straight road meetings with the Cavaliers.
The Bulls (30-25) lost five of six games heading into the All-Star break, but are 40-24 after the break over the past three seasons. They looked impressive in shutting down Atlanta in a 106-81 victory on Tuesday.
Chris Duhon led six Bulls in double figures with 17 points, and the defense held the Hawks to 0-for-16 shooting from the field in the third quarter.
“We did a good job. We’ve done that in stretches all year, we’re just trying to find it more consistently,” said Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich, who had 16 points.
Chicago will need more solid play over the next five days as it plays four games against potential Eastern Conference playoff teams.
After facing the Cavaliers (32-22), the Bulls host Southwest Division-leading Washington on Friday and visit Eastern Conference-leading Detroit on Sunday. They wrap up the challenging stretch next Monday at home against Orlando, which currently holds the eighth and final playoff spot.
“You got to be able to go into a hostile environment and get a win,” said Bulls center Ben Wallace, whose team is 9-18 away from the United Center. “I don’t necessarily care what the record on the road is from here on out, but we got to come on the road and put up a fight.”
The Bulls have played particularly poorly in Cleveland, where they have not won since Dec. 26, 2003, and have been outscored by an average of 17.4 points during their six-game losing skid.
The Cavaliers, meanwhile, are 20-7 at home this season, and have won five of their last six at Quicken Loans Arena.
The Bulls lost at Cleveland 113-94 on Nov. 9, then evened the season series with a 103-96 home victory on Dec. 30.
Ben Gordon leads Chicago with a 21.0 scoring average, but had a season-low two points on 1-of-10 shooting in November’s loss to the Cavs.
Cleveland has also won five of six games with the Bulls overall since the start of last season, with LeBron James leading the way. The All-Star forward scored 30 or more points in five of those meetings.
James had 29 points in Wednesday’s 86-85 victory over Toronto, but Anderson Varejao saved the day.
Varejao dunked teammate Sasha Pavlovic’s missed shot with 16 seconds left to give the Cavs their fifth win in six games.
“That was definitely the play of the game,” James said. “It was a game-winner. He timed it just right.”
Varejao finished with 16 points and 15 rebounds, and has been effective in the starting lineup replacing Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who is tending to a family health matter. Varejao is averaging 13.3 points and 14.3 rebounds in three starts.