CHICAGO -- Ben Gordon can't figure it out, either.
For all their deficiencies, for all those brutal losses, the Chicago Bulls continue to let performances like this slip in. A few more like this and they might march into the playoffs.
Back home after an 0-3 road trip, the Bulls wasted little time taking it to a Western Conference contender. And when the rout was over, Gordon's response was short when someone asked if he can figure his team.
"Not really," he said.
The Bulls showed their good side this time, going on an 18-0 run that made it 48-24 midway through the second quarter and adding another 17-0 burst that bridged the third and fourth quarters. That sent the Hornets to just their second loss in 11 games, and Paul blasted his team's effort.
"Tonight was just terrible on both ends of the court in the effort department," he said.
And coach Byron Scott said: "We were just never in the game from a mental standpoint as well as a physical standpoint."
The lone bright spot was Paul, who scored 29 after back-to-back 30 point performances even though the Bulls did their best to contain him. They tried to keep him out of the paint, having the 6-foot-6 Salmons guard him instead of Derrick Rose and using a sort of hybrid zone in which Joakim Noah at times met him at the top of the key.
Even so, Paul hit 13 of 20 shots while dishing out six assists and grabbing six rebounds. But he got little help.
The Hornets had a particularly rough time from the perimeter, missing all 11 3-pointers -- the first time they failed to hit one since March 1, 2006, against the Los Angeles Clippers, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The Bulls, meanwhile, hit 10-of-25 from long range, with Salmons and Gordon leading the way.
Salmons buried 5-of-8 3s, while Gordon rebounded from two subpar performances by hitting 3-of-7. Brad Miller added 15 points and nine rebounds for Chicago, which sandwiched dramatic losses at Miami and at Philadelphia in the old Spectrum around a blowout at Orlando.
This time, there was no drama.
The Bulls, in a six-way fight for the Eastern Conference's eighth seed, looked like a playoff team.
"It just shows what we can be, how good a team we actually can be, if we come out every night the same way," Salmons said.
Salmons scored eight points in the first quarter as the Bulls built a 27-22 lead, and Chicago busted it open with that 18-0 burst early in the second. The score was 30-24 when Salmons hit a free throw to start the run, and in a flash, Chicago was running away with this one.
Gordon, who averaged 6.5 points the previous two games after pouring in 43 at Miami on Monday, then hit a jumper off the dribble from the right wing and buried a 3-pointer from the left to make it 36-24. New Orleans called time, but the Bulls kept coming at them.
Miller hit back-to-back jumpers, and Tim Thomas sandwiched a basket in the post and a 3-pointer around a 3 by Salmons with 5:40 left in the half. Just like that, it was 48-24.
Former Bull Tyson Chandler stopped the run with a put-back dunk, igniting a nine-point spurt, but Chicago regained some momentum when Miller blocked Julian Wright's layup. That led to a 3-pointer in transition by Gordon with 24 seconds left. Paul hit two free throws at the end of the half to make it 53-39, but the Hornets never threatened after that.
"These games are very important," Chandler said. "Tough loss."
The Hornets were again without F Peja Stojakovic, who missed his sixth straight game with back spasms. Scott hopes to get him back during the five-game homestand that starts Monday against Houston but won't rush him. "We need him in April, for sure," Scott said. "We just want to make sure we take our time." ... Backup F Sean Marks sat out with the flu. ... C Tyson Chandler did something he didn't get to do on his first few trips back to Chicago: The former Bull got to enjoy the city. In the past, he was "a little bitter." This time, he went shopping for jewelry. "I forgot how much of a nice city this was," he said. "I got a chance to walk around Michigan Avenue, enjoy the city a little." ... Bulls F Tyrus Thomas blocked a shot, extending his club-record streak to 28 games with at least one.
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