Denver (33-20) at Chicago (21-32)

Partly Cloudy Currently: Chicago, IL
Temp: 74° F
  • Game info: 8:00 pm EST Fri Feb 22, 2008
  • TV: ESPN, WGN
Preview | Box Score | Recap

The Chicago Bulls have been one of the most disappointing teams in the NBA this season, yet find themselves only two games out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

They’re hoping a blockbuster move can help them get there.

The new-look Bulls will host the Denver Nuggets on Friday, a day after dealing center Ben Wallace and forward Joe Smith as part of a three-team, 11-player swap at the NBA’s trading deadline.

Wallace has failed to live up to expectations since Chicago (21-32) signed the four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year prior to the 2006-07 season, and on Thursday, he was dealt - along with Smith - to Central Division rival Cleveland in exchange for Larry Hughes, Drew Gooden, Cedric Simmons and Shannon Brown.

The Bulls also surrendered a future second-round pick to the Cavaliers, who received Delonte West and Wally Szczerbiak from Seattle for Ira Newble and Donyell Marshall. Chicago’s Adrian Griffin was sent to the Sonics as well.

“It was pretty good,” Wallace said of his time in Chicago. “It is what it is. It’s one of those things that you come in and you play hard and try to give what you can give and not worry about the things you can’t control.”

Smith, a 13-year veteran, had been a solid post presence in his first full season in Chicago, and has averaged 18.0 points and 7.1 rebounds in his last seven games.

He had a team-high 17 points and nine boards on Wednesday, but the Bulls lost 110-102 in overtime to New Jersey.

Wallace was signed for his defensive presence two summers ago, but provided very little scoring, averaging 5.1 points on just 37.3 percent shooting. Gooden and Hughes could boost the Bulls’ often stagnant offense, which is averaging only 94.9 points.

Gooden is averaging 11.3 points this season, and will be reunited with former University of Kansas teammate Kirk Hinrich in Chicago.

Hughes, like Wallace, was a free-agent signing that didn’t work out as planned. Since averaging 22.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists with Washington in 2004-05, Hughes has scored 14.3 points per game on just 39.6 percent shooting.

Over the past month, however, he’s played much better, averaging 19.1 points in his last 13 games.

It’s unclear if the former Cavaliers will be in uniform for the Bulls against Denver.

Losing Wallace and Smith should open up playing time for second-year forward Tyrus Thomas (5.9 points per game) and rookie Joakim Noah (4.9). Each big man was playing only around 16 minutes per game.

Perhaps the Bulls’ most important addition came on Wednesday when Luol Deng returned to the lineup after missing 16 of 21 games with Achilles’ tendinitis. He had 13 points in only 19 minutes.

“I felt great the first game back,” Deng said. “I don’t remember the last time I played without pain and today it felt good.”

Despite being 13 games over .500, Denver (33-20) isn’t exactly on solid ground in the crowded Western Conference playoff picture, currently in a three-team battle for the final two spots.

But considering the Nuggets’ recent play, they look primed to make the postseason. They’ve won seven of nine, including a 124-118 victory over NBA-best Boston on Wednesday.

“Winning this game puts a lot of pressure on us, because if you can beat a team like this, then you can beat all the other teams,” said Allen Iverson, who had 28 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. “We have enough talent to scare some people, but we just have to bring it night in and night out.”

Iverson is averaging 29.4 points in his career against Chicago, scoring more than 40 points four times.

Carmelo Anthony, meanwhile, has been on a tear since returning from a sprained left ankle that kept him out for five games. Since Feb. 2, Anthony is averaging 30.1 points and 8.6 rebounds.

The Nuggets are averaging 112.1 points in their last eight games.

Denver beat Chicago 112-91 on Nov. 20 in the only meeting this season.

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Friday, Feb 22