CHICAGO (AP) - The Chicago Bulls were coming off two big wins and staring at a team missing its franchise player.
Time for a letdown? Not exactly.
Derrick Rose scored 24 points, and the Bulls beat New Orleans 85-77 on Monday night with Hornets star Chris Paul sidelined by a concussion.
The four-time All-Star watched from the sideline after colliding with Cleveland's Ramon Sessions in Sunday's win and remains day to day. Without him, the Hornets put up a fight against the Central division leaders but were shut out over the final 3:19.
``In the past, I really think we would have struggled with that game,' Chicago's Luol Deng said.
Not that it was a breeze.
Coming off wins at Orlando and Miami, the Bulls couldn't exhale until Rose hit two free throws with 35 seconds remaining. That made it 83-77 and sent them to their 10th win in 12 games.
Carlos Boozer added 19 points and nine rebounds, Joakim Noah grabbed 13 boards, and Ronnie Brewer and Deng scored 10 apiece.
``We're just playing good right now,' said Rose, who had nine assists. He also got poked in the right eye but said he's fine.
Jarrett Jack, starting in Paul's place, led the Hornets with 23 points, and Marco Belinelli scored 17. David West had 11 points and 11 rebounds, but he was 4 for 17 from the field. New Orleans shot just 36.3 percent.
``Hard to fault our guys when they play that way, off of a back-to-back and not having Chris and Trevor,' coach Monty Williams said.
One bright spot was Jack.
``It wasn't necessarily my goal to come out and get 20 points,' he said. ``I just come out and try to be aggressive. If I'm aggressive, usually everyone else is aggressive. Just follow my lead from that standpoint.'
Alone in second place after a one-point win over Miami on Sunday that gave them a three-game sweep over the Heat, the Bulls had a tough time pulling this one out. They were leading 75-65 early in the fourth after Rose nailed a 3. But the Hornets weren't finished.
They got a jumper by Jack and a pair of baskets by Willie Green after a timeout to pull within four midway through the quarter. Jack tied it at 77 on a layup with 3:19 left, but the Hornets didn't score again. They missed their final five shots and committed two turnovers the rest of the way.
``I thought we played well enough to win,' West said. ``We had the game right where we wanted it at 77-77 with 3-something to go. We couldn't convert down the stretch. We didn't have enough offense.'
A driving Rose crashed to the floor as his layup got blocked by West, but Noah got fouled while converting the put-back, pumping his fist after the ball went in to give the Bulls a 79-77 lead with three minutes left. He missed the free throw, but Deng hit two 45 seconds later to make it a four-point game.
The teams then traded several misses before Rose's free throws with 35 seconds made it a six-point game.
Noah then stole the ball from Jack, leading to two foul shots by Kyle Korver with 25 seconds left that made it 85-77.
``It was a good win,' Noah said. ``It was a win that we really needed. You look at the top four, five teams in the East, everything is really close. So every game is very important. We understand that. We're just staying focused on improving and winning.'
Notes: Hornets coach Monty Williams said the Bulls might be the league's best all-around team. And if he were choosing the MVP, Rose would probably get his vote. ``Maybe the most complete team in the NBA right now,' he said. ``Nobody has a bench the way that bench plays. Rose is probably the MVP.' ... Hornets F Trevor Ariza (strained left adductor) did not play. ... The Bulls have won six straight over New Orleans and swept them the past three years. ... Chicago has won nine straight at home, its longest streak since a 10-game run late in the 1997-98 season.
The Associated Press News Service
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