Bulls stop Nuggets' win streak with short bench

CHICAGO -- With only seven available players -- eight if you count a 38-year-old Lindsey Hunter -- the remaining Chicago Bulls didn't have to worry about playing time.

Ben Gordon scored a season-high 37 points to lead the short-handed Bulls to a 116-99 win over the Denver Nuggets on Friday night.

"It's fun," Gordon said. "I think guys play more relaxed. We're not coming out of the game or whatever. That's been working for us the last few games."

Luol Deng scored 22 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, and Tyrus Thomas added 21 and 12 to give the Bulls their second straight win since dealing four players to the Sacramento Kings on Thursday.

"The NBA is like that," Gordon said. "Usually the teams that have their backs against the wall tend to play a little better, play more passionate. That's how we've been playing the last couple games."

Chauncey Billups scored 25 to lead Denver, which had its three-game winning streak stopped. Denver had won five of six on an eight-game road trip. Nene added 19, but only grabbed three rebounds.

The Bulls, with only four big men, outrebounded the Nuggets 45-36 and made 31 of 34 shots from the foul line. Chicago also outscored Denver 62-45 in the second half.

"In the second half, our offense was too individualistic, 'me' basketball," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "For most of the year, we've been playing unselfish basketball. We had opportunities to attack the rim, but tonight we chose to play one-on-one basketball."

The Bulls had a short bench after making three trades before the deadline, and Hunter didn't get in until the last 1:07 of the game.

"We were short-manned with everything that's been going on the last couple days," Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said. "But we have resilient guys. I've said that since the beginning. And we are unpredictable. I've been saying that since the beginning, too. I like the direction we're going."

Chicago beat the Bucks on Wednesday with nine players, but guard Thabo Sefolosha was dealt to Oklahoma City on Thursday. Still, the Bulls outscored the Nuggets 22-4 on fast-break points.

Chicago held Carmelo Anthony to 12 points on 5-for-18 shooting. Anthony said he was bothered by a bruised left knee suffered Feb. 18 at Philadelphia. Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin didn't play in the second half with back spasms.

"It's like a deep thigh bruise," Anthony said. "My first step just wasn't right."

Karl didn't like Anthony's mind-set Friday.

"Carmelo is hurt, there's no doubt that he does not have much zip," Karl said. "We cannot force the game. He was not the only guy. We had other guys forcing the game, too."

Brad Miller and John Salmons, acquired from the Kings, were at the United Center after passing their physicals Friday, but couldn't play because Sacramento didn't finalize the physicals for Drew Gooden, Andres Nocioni, Cedric Simmons and Michael Ruffin before gametime.

Anthony Roberson, acquired from New York in the three-player deal for Larry Hughes, was also at the game but not eligible. Tim Thomas was scheduled to arrive Saturday morning and could play Sunday at Indiana. Jerome James, out with a ruptured Achilles' tendon, isn't expected to report at all.

Gordon scored 15 points and Derrick Rose had eight in the third quarter to give the Bulls an 83-77 lead.

The game was tied at 54 at the half. Gordon also scored nine in the Bulls' 33-point second quarter, as the Bulls fought back after trailing by as many as 12.

"Once he got it going, it was hard for us to contain him," Anthony said of Gordon.

Billups hit all seven of his shots and scored 16 in the first half, but had problems in the second, when Del Negro put Hinrich on him.

"They made it tough on me with double teams from a lot of different places," Billups said. "They got the ball out of my hands."

The Nuggets tied it at 87 on Chris Anderson's basket, but the Bulls responded with a 19-5 run. Thomas made a 20-foot jumper, Gordon had a layup, Deng scored four straight and Noah finished it was a two-handed dunk.

After Thomas got called for goaltending on a shot by Nene, Noah scored four more and Thomas added a three-point play to give the Bulls a comfortable cushion.

Game notes
Martin hurt his back in the first quarter, according to the team, but played 6:22 in the second. Martin scored six points and had four rebounds in 18:22. ... C Aaron Gray was the only frontcourt sub for the Bulls and he picked up his fifth foul five seconds into the fourth quarter. ... Miller showed up at the Bulls' practice facility last night. ... Rose only played 2:33 in the fourth. He scored 10 points with six assists.