CHICAGO — Just because the Milwaukee Bucks had eight healthy players and the worst record in the NBA, that didn’t mean they would go down easily on Friday night at the United Center.
The Chicago Bulls put seven players in double figures and played just well enough to pull out a 102-90 victory. The Bulls (44-32) won their fourth straight and are now a season-high 12 games above .500. They’ll have a potential first-round playoff preview on Saturday at Washington.
Chicago remained tied for third place in the East with Toronto, but would lose a tiebreaker on the basis of the Raptors being a division champion.
Guards Kirk Hinrich and Jimmy Butler led the Bulls with 17 points each, while guard D.J. Augustin and forward Carlos Boozer added 14 points each. Forward Taj Gibson scored 13.
“I loved the balance of the team,” Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said. “The shot distribution was pretty even and I think that’s important for us.”
Milwaukee (14-62) didn’t go quietly, trimming a 22-point deficit down to eight in the fourth quarter. Forward Jeff Adrien’s jumper with 7:11 left capped a 10-0 run and brought the Bucks within 85-77.
“Just because they’re the worst team in the league doesn’t mean nothing, really,” Gibson said. “It’s tough because you’re playing against guys that are fighting for their jobs, fighting for their livelihood. They’re going to play hard. We’re happy with the win. We understand not every win is going to be perfect, but a win is a win.”
Milwaukee had two chances to pull closer, but after a missed shot and a turnover, Hinrich’s 3-point basket gave the Bulls some breathing room at 88-77. The Bucks got within eight points twice more before Chicago pulled away with a quick four-point run, which included a Gibson putback, a technical foul on Brandon Knight and two Bulls free throws.
“I thought we played a good second half and came back,” Knight said. “This group is together and will continue to fight and support each other.”
This result ended a streak of eight consecutive wins by the road team in this series. The Bucks had won the last three at the United Center.
Milwaukee had just eight healthy players for this game and used rookie guard D.J. Stephens for 22 seconds. Among the missing were guard O.J. Mayo (ankle), forward Ekpe Udoh (ankle), center Miroslav Raduljica (ankle), forward Ersan Ilyasova (ankle) and guard Nate Wolters (broken hand).
Knight led the Bucks by scoring 22 points before fouling out. Adrian added a career-high 21 points and guard Ramon Sessions had 13.
“I just tried to keep the minutes as even as I could,” Milwaukee coach Larry Drew said. “These guys played a lot of minutes and we have a back-to-back.”
A mild skirmish in the third quarter resulted in a technical foul on Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton. It started when Knight swiped at the ball and struck Augustin in a sensitive area. Augustin fell to the floor, called timeout and was angry when getting to his feet. Middleton shoved Augustin and got the technical.
There were three more technicals in the fourth quarter for arguing calls, by Gibson, Knight and Chicago center Joakim Noah. Rookie forward Giannis Antetokounmpo also fouled out for Milwaukee.
The Bucks started the game quietly, falling behind 13-4 as the Bulls attempted twice as many shots (14 to 7) during the first six minutes of the first quarter. Chicago’s largest lead of the first half was 48-29 with 3:37 left before halftime after a drive and dunk by rookie Tony Snell.
Milwaukee got within 63-53 midway through the third quarter. A few minutes later, back-to-back 3-pointers by Augustin and Mike Dunleavy put the Bulls ahead 80-60.
“You have to give them credit,” Thibodeau said of the Bucks. “I thought they played hard throughout the game. They never went away. Even when we went up 20, they kept battling back. Defensively, we could obviously do better.”
The Bulls shot just 36.9 percent from the field, compared to 45.6 percent by Milwaukee. Chicago countered with a 16-9 edge in second-chance points.
NOTES: Milwaukee C Larry Sanders was suspended five games without pay for violating the NBA’s drug policy. In a statement released by the team, Sanders acknowledged that he was penalized for using marijuana. Sanders is out with a fractured orbital bone and is not expected back this season, so he may not serve the suspension until the start of next season. … Chicago released rookie F Erik Murphy on Thursday, setting the stage for further roster moves. The Bulls are looking to add veteran help for the playoffs, but probably won’t sign anyone for a few days. “I thought he did a great job for us and I thought he had gotten significantly better,” coach Tom Thibodeau said of Murphy. … Thibodeau on aiming for a particular playoff seed: “A lot can happen. So there’s too many variables to even think like that, I think.”
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