CHICAGO (AP) — Jimmy Butler and Kirk Hinrich had 17 points apiece to lead seven players in double figures, and the Chicago Bulls, despite some occasional lapses in the fourth quarter, cruised to a 102-90 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday night.
Carlos Boozer and D.J. Augustin scored 14 points apiece. Taj Gibson added 13, Mike Dunleavy 12 and Joakim Noah had 11 points and 13 rebounds.
The Bulls have won four straight and six of seven, and remained tied with the Toronto Raptors for third in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls (44-32) face Washington, a possible first-round opponent, on Saturday.
Brandon Knight had 22 points before fouling out with just over two minutes left for Milwaukee. Jeff Adrien added 21 points for the Bucks, who have dropped four straight overall and 12 straight on the road.
Milwaukee entered the game with just eight healthy players because of injuries and coach Larry Drew decided to play just seven of those.
Playing short-handed is always a concern against any team, but it was a special concern for Drew because the Bulls’ frontline has been dominant in the series.
“They’re always a matchup problem for us, even when we’re healthy, because they’re big and physical,” Drew said before the game. “We’ll just have to play the hand that’s dealt to us. We’ll have to do some things to compensate for some bodies being missed. We have to try to protect our bigs as much as we can because we don’t many.”
Really, this one was never much of a contest even though the score was tight on a few occasions. The Bulls jumped out to a 13-4 lead six minutes into the game. The lead reached double digits a little more than a minute later.
While the Bulls played well, it appeared they were on cruise control much of the way and could have stretched their advantage whenever they felt like it.
The lead was 27-15 after the first quarter and 51-35 at halftime. Interestingly, no Bulls player had double-figure points in the first half, but seven players had at least five points.
The Bucks rallied at the start of the second half and pulled within 63-53 midway through the third quarter. But they weren’t able to trim the deficit to single digits and the Bulls built their advantage back up to 82-62 entering the fourth quarter.
The game appeared over, but the Bulls created some suspense by managing to score just three points in the first six minutes of the period to let Milwaukee pull within 85-77. Hinrich finally broke the drought when he hit a 3-pointer with 5:59 left to make it 88-77.
NOTES: The Bulls waived rookie Erik Murphy on Thursday and there have been multiple reports saying they are interested in signing a veteran, possibly former Bull Ronnie Brewer. Murphy had been with the team all season, but only played a total of 62 minutes in 24 games. “It was done more so for roster flexibility,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I thought he did a great job for us, and I thought he had gotten significantly better.” . Bucks C Larry Sanders, currently out with an injury, was suspended for five game on Friday for violating the NBA drug policy. Sanders said in a statement released by the team that he was penalized for using marijuana. “I think the most important thing is that he learns from his mistakes,” Drew said. “Hopefully, he can put them behind him, get on the right track and stay on the right track.”
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