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Smith returns to starting lineup, leads Bulls past Sonics

SEATTLE (AP) -- A cortisone shot and three miserable days in bed
without any desire to eat. That was Joe Smith's unlikely
prescription for a big night.

Smith returned to the starting lineup to score 25 points and the
Chicago Bulls defeated the Seattle SuperSonics 118-108 on Monday
night. He had been sidelined for two games last week with a sore
knee and then the flu.

"Constant headache. Sore throat. Chest pains. Shivers.
Sweats," the 12th-year veteran said of what he had in the days
before Chicago's second victory in six games.

"I'm still fighting it a little bit."

Tell that to Seattle. Its soft interior defense made Smith look
like the healthiest man on the floor.

Then again, the passive Sonics made almost everyone in a Bulls
jersey look great. After a three-game spate of unusual defense
spawned a season-best three-game winning streak, Seattle reverted
to the usual, slacking ways that made it tied with Denver as
third-worst in the league in allowing points (103.9 per game)
entering Monday.

The Bulls, still playing without second-leading scorer Luol Deng
and Monday's final quarter without slashing point guard Kirk Hinrich, also got 20 points from Ben Gordon. Hinrich added 15
points before leaving with a rib injury, while Andres Nocioni and
low-scoring rookie Aaron Gray each had 14 in Chicago's
third-highest scoring game of the season.

"They are not overly talented, so to speak, but they keep
coming after you," said Wally Szczerbiak, who led Seattle with 21
points off the bench.

"If you're not ready to play, they are going to punch you in
the mouth. We can really learn a lot from this team."

Chicago interim coach Jim Boylan said Hinrich, who also had five
assists and repeatedly pushed the ball into Seattle's soft middle
before he left, was to stay in Seattle to get tests at a hospital
instead of joining his teammates on the postgame flight to
Portland. The Bulls play there Wednesday.

"I don't know the extent of the injury. I think they are just
being cautious," Boylan said.

Seattle, which also got 20 points from rookie Kevin Durant,
still hasn't won four in a row since April, 2006.

"We got outplayed at every position," said Seattle coach P.J.
Carlesimo, who added he was "very disappointed."

"If you score 108 points, you should be able to win the game.
We scored 108 and weren't even in it."

Boylan said he wanted to start Smith, who had scored nine points
in 16 minutes off the bench Saturday at Sacramento while admitting
he still felt sick, because he wanted the 12th-year veteran's
scoring early in games. That is especially true with Deng still out
indefinitely with an Achilles injury.

Joakim Noah had averaged 10 points while starting the previous
three games for Smith, but Boylan said he likes Noah's rookie
energy coming off the bench.

Smith roamed free while getting eight points in the first eight
minutes and 14 in all in the first half, as Chicago twice built
10-point leads.

Seattle got no closer than to within five after halftime. Earl
Watson made a 3-pointer and Kurt Thomas scored his only basket of
the night to begin the second half. Consecutive 3-pointers by
Nocioni and Hinrich plus a layup by Smith put the Bulls back up
64-54.

When Seattle got to within 77-71 late in the period, Gordon
converted a three-point play and Noah had a tip-in and free throw
to make it 82-71.

And when Luke Ridnour's 3-pointer got Seattle to within 91-84
with 8:41 left, Chris Duhon answered with consecutive, long 3's --
his first two baskets of the game. Smith's easy layup while roaming
free in the lane had Chicago cruising 103-91 with four minutes
remaining.

Smith was 9-for-18 shooting, after making just 2 of 12 in his
previous start, Jan. 27 in a loss to Phoenix.

"I was knocking down shots before the game, in warmups," Smith
said. "I knew this might be a good one."

Game notes
Sonics C Robert Swift made both shots that he took in five
minutes. It was his first action since Nov. 11 because of continued
soreness in his surgically repaired right knee. The 7-footer was
replacing Thomas, who played 17 minutes before leaving with a
scratched right eye. Thomas said he was fine afterward. ... Sonics
rookie G Jeff Green missed his second consecutive game with a
sprained left ankle. ... Bulls F Tyrus Thomas was inactive because
of a sprained left foot.