ATLANTA (AP)—The Chicago Bulls are finally escaping the shadow of Michael Jordan.
Eddy Curry scored 19 points, five of his teammates also reached double figures and the Bulls surged over .500 for the first time in more than two years, routing the Atlanta Hawks 107-82 on Monday night.
Chicago hasn’t been above .500 this late in the season since 1998, when Jordan led the Bulls to their sixth NBA championship and retired for the second time.
A painful rebuilding job—and six straight losing seasons—might finally be paying off with a lineup that includes two rookies (Luol Deng and Chris Duhon), a second-year player (Kirk Hinrich) and the 22-year-old Curry, who qualifies as a seasoned veteran on this team.
“We were just having fun out there,” Curry said. “We were really clicking on offense.”
The woeful Hawks actually led 24-23 at the end of the first quarter, but things quickly turned ugly for the home team. The Bulls outscored Atlanta 35-12 in the second period—and the rout was on.
Early on, Chicago appeared to be headed for another dismal season in the post-Jordan era. The Bulls lost their first nine games and 14 of 17, but they’ve won 17 of 22 to improve to 20-19.
The stretch already includes winning streaks of five and seven games, and the Bulls have now won three in a row after blowing out the Hawks.
Chicago hadn’t been above .500 since winning its first two games of the 2002-03 season. That was quickly followed by four straight losses—and another miserable season.
“We didn’t think we were an 0-9 team when we were 0-9,” coach Scott Skiles said. “We thought we were better than that. And we were.”
At times, this one looked like the Harlem Globetrotters against the Washington Generals.
The Bulls dunked at will, including Curry’s spectacular, one-handed slam on a lob from Deng early in the third quarter. When the Hawks tried to cover up on the inside, Chicago burned them from beyond the arc, finishing 9-of-16 on 3-pointers. Duhon had four of them.
“We just started missing shots, and then we couldn’t stop anybody,” Hawks guard Tyronn Lue said. “We just went around hanging our heads. When you’re not scoring, you’ve got to stop the other team from scoring. We let our offense affect our defense.”
For a while, it appeared the Hawks might challenge the worst loss in Atlanta history. They were down 99-57 in the opening minutes of the final period, on pace to eclipse a 47-point defeat against Philadelphia in 1982.
But the Bulls went cold the rest of the way, allowing the Hawks to avoid that brush with infamy. It wasn’t even the worst loss of the season, which remains a 112-82 blowout at Phoenix in the opener.
That didn’t make the outcome any easier to take.
“If we lose by 100 and we’re giving it all we have, I can live with that,” Lue said. “But to play like we did tonight is unacceptable.”
The Bulls certainly know what it feels like to be on the other end of a blowout.
“It’s kind of crazy because not too long ago, we were that other team,” Curry said. “So we definitely know how they feel. It never feels good.”
The Hawks made just 26 of 80 shots (32.5 percent) and mostly just stood around on defense. Al Harrington led the way with 18 points, but scoring honors didn’t mean much in this one.
Before the game, the Hawks activated 42-year-old C Kevin Willis, who had missed seven games with a sore back. Rookie G Donta Smith went on the injured list with tendinitis. … The Bulls had 26 assists, led by Duhon with nine and Hinrich with eight. … Lue went home early from the morning shootaround because of flulike symptoms. He returned to start in the evening, and wound up playing 28 minutes. … Boris Diaw, the Hawks’ first-round pick in 2003, is clearly in coach Mike Woodson’s doghouse. He had played in only five of the previous 14 games, and didn’t get into this one until the game was totally out of hand.