Bulls overcome 11-point, third-quarter deficit against Cats

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Coach Scott Skiles has tinkered with his lineup all season, trying to find the right combination to spark the struggling Chicago Bulls.

The solution appears to involve Andres Nocioni.

Two nights after he scored 30 points off the bench, Nocioni scored 10 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter and added 11 rebounds as the Bulls rallied to send the Charlotte Bobcats to their seventh straight loss, 91-82 on Wednesday.

With Luol Deng controlling the inside with 30 points and Nocioni hitting big shots from the outside, the Bulls erased an 11-point third-quarter deficit by outscoring the Bobcats 38-22 in the fourth.

"I think we played the way the Chicago Bulls play, moving the ball, passing the ball," said Nocioni after only the Bulls' second road win in nine tries. "I think we played really hard defense."

Hard enough to stymie the free-falling Bobcats.

Gerald Wallace had 22 points and eight rebounds for Charlotte, but was on the bench with five fouls for the decisive 10-2 run early in the fourth quarter that gave Chicago its first lead.

Jason Richardson scored 17 points, but was shut out in the final quarter and Raymond Felton scored 17 points, but shot 5-for-14. The Bobcats had little presence inside as they extended the league's longest current losing streak.

It didn't help that Charlotte's offense was off kilter. The Bobcats took 26 3-point shots, hitting six, and center Emeka Okafor took only seven shots.

"We don't need 26 3-point shots. We need to try to get to the rim," coach Sam Vincent said. "We don't need the jumpers. We need to be trying to get the ball inside to Emeka even more."

The Bobcats, who haven't won since Nov. 19 against Portland, found out Wednesday morning that Cleveland had matched their offer sheet for 6-foot-10 forward Anderson Varejao.

Vincent has been pleading for another big man for months, and Charlotte's lack of depth inside was costly down the stretch.

"I worry about our confidence in terms of really understanding how to close out games," Vincent said.

In a matchup of coaches who were teammates at Michigan State and with the Orlando Magic, both Vincent and Skiles continued tweaking lineups.

Vincent started rookie Jared Dudley for a second straight game ahead of ineffective center Primoz Brezec. That moved Okafor to center and Wallace to power forward.

But Dudley failed to score on 0-of-6 shooting and the Bobcats faded late in their second loss to Chicago in five days.

Skiles used his fifth different starting lineup in 16 games, replacing Tyrus Thomas with Joe Smith. Thomas played only six minutes, while Smith had 11 points and five rebounds.

The Bulls overcame 20 turnovers, 10 of them in the third quarter as Charlotte built a 60-49 lead on Matt Carroll's jumper with 1:13 left.

Then Skiles put in Chris Duhon, Nocioni and rookie Joakim Noah, and they led the Bulls' final-quarter charge.

Nocioni, who has seen his minutes fluctuate all season, scored seven points in the first 5 minutes of the fourth and his 3-pointer tied the game. Chicago took its first lead with 6:26 left on Duhon's driving layup, and Deng's putback on the next possession made it 72-68.

Wallace was watching from the bench with five fouls, but returned with just over 5 minutes left. He couldn't stop the Bulls from taking a 79-70 lead on Nocioni's jumper with 3:36 left.

"You're thinking about [the losing streak] in your mind, and then when things start to change, it's in the front of your mind," Wallace said.

Deng bested his previous season high of 29 points set against Charlotte on Saturday by making 10 of 17 shots and 10 of 13 free throws. And Deng was on the floor with some different faces late when Chicago put it away.

"I don't know anybody that wants to be in that position where you're always searching for combinations out there," Skiles said. "But unfortunately, that's kind of where we are right now."

Game notes
Vincent recalled what he thought when he first saw Skiles at Michigan State. "I thought he was a little [expletive] who couldn't play basketball," Vincent joked. ... Skiles said he didn't think Vincent would end up a coach when he was leading the Spartans in scoring. "I thought he was going to end up being an actor," Skiles said. "There is some acting in this business, though." ... Bobcats F Ryan Hollins (shoulder) missed his fifth straight game.


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