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Horford, Hawks on roll, defeat Bulls

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ATLANTA — The Chicago Bulls, especially with a strengthening Derrick Rose at point guard, are top-tier contenders in the Eastern Conference. The Atlanta Hawks look like they belong in that same class.

Center Al Horford did a little bit of everything, scoring, rebounding and even leading fast breaks, to lift Atlanta to an exciting 93-86 win over the Bulls on Monday night at Philips Arena.

Horford finished with 21 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, and point guard Jeff Teague made two free throws with 10.8 seconds to play to seal the Hawks’ 10th win in 11 games.

Guard Jimmy Butler led the Bulls with 22 points, and Rose added 14 points and eight assists as Chicago saw its three-game winning streak snapped.

“He was great, awesome,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said of Butler. “You can’t say enough about him. He’s old school. Last night, he was not feeling well, and he said, ‘Don’t cut my minutes.’ I respect that.”

Atlanta (17-7) took a 73-64 lead into the fourth quarter, but was forced to fight off multiple Chicago charges. The Bulls scored the first seven points of the fourth quarter, with backup point guard Aaron Brooks splashing a deep 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 73-71 with 9:12 to play.

The Bulls (15-9) stayed close, but the Hawks always had an answer, usually from Horford, who handed out back-to-back assists during a run that had Atlanta up 85-78 with 3:35 to play.

A Taj Gibson dunk off a feed from Rose cut the lead to 87-84, but Horford answered with a mid-range jumper with 57 seconds left.

The Hawks led for the majority of an action-packed first half and took a 50-44 lead into intermission.

“We talked about wanting to have great pace coming out tonight,” coach Mike Budenholzer said.

Rose and Teague went after each other in the first half. Both made one-on-one plays and also set up teammates. Rose had eight points and five assists, and Teague had six points and four assists in the first half.

Teague finished with 12 points and seven assists, and guard Kyle Korver hit four 3-pointers for his 12 points. Forward Paul Millsap had 17 points for Atlanta.

“Contributions up and down the roster on both ends of the court really allowed us to beat a very good team,” Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said.

The Hawks’ bench outscored the Bulls’ reserves 24-11.

Rose has now played in 11 straight games since missing a four-game stretch in late November. This was the second time he’s played on back-to-back nights this season. He had his first 30-point performance since returning from a torn ACL in last week’s win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

“Every step is important,” Rose said. “Tonight is already out of mind. It’s on to the next game. I just want to keep it moving. Shots that I normally hit were just flat. They just didn’t have any lift to them. I can guarantee you the next game that won’t happen.”

The Bulls host the New York Knicks on Thursday.

Chicago outrebounded the Hawks 57-40 and had 17 second-chance points to the Hawks’ two, despite missing All-Star center Joakim Noah, who was out with an ankle injury.

“I thought our guys played hard,” Thibodeau added. “It thought the rebounding was really good. You have to give the Hawks credit. They made big plays.”

Atlanta improved to 12-2 at home this season, before heading out on a difficult three-game road trip that begins Wednesday in Cleveland.

“It was very important,” Atlanta forward DeMarre Carroll said. “We had to come out and be aggressive and match their physicality because they have a very physical team. We just tried to take the fight to them.”

NOTES: Chicago C Joakim Noah (right ankle) was held out for a fourth consecutive game. … Atlanta C Pero Antic missed his third straight game with flu-like symptoms. … Hawks G Kyle Korver had made 44 consecutive free throws entering Monday’s game. He needed three more without a miss to break the franchise record set by Tom McMillen in 1978-79. … Chicago rookie F Doug McDermott underwent arthroscopic knee surgery Saturday and is expected to miss four-to-six weeks. … Celebrities Chris Tucker and Ludacris were in attendance at Philips Arena. There also was a Santa Claus sighting. … The Bulls won all four meetings with Hawks last season and had won the last six overall before Monday’s game. … Chicago entered the game 11-3 on the road, the best away record in the Eastern Conference.

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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