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Professional

Blazers burn Chicago’s defense at United Center

Bulls bruised, battered

Portland Trail Blazers forward J.J. Hickson (left) looks to the basket as Bulls forward Taj Gibson defends during the first half Thursday in Chicago.
Portland Trail Blazers forward J.J. Hickson (left) looks to the basket as Bulls forward Taj Gibson defends during the first half Thursday in Chicago.

CHICAGO – This time, the Bulls were hurting for reasons other than injury.

Welcoming back critical rotation pieces in Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson, the Bulls' defense was battered and bruised as the Trail Blazers cruised to a 99-89 victory that wasn't that close Thursday night at the United Center.

The loss left the Bulls again searching for answers with just 15 games remaining after dropping into a sixth-place tie with the Celtics, just two games ahead of the eighth-place Bucks.

About the only thing saving the Bulls – who are 8-14 since moving to a season-best 11 games over .500 at the end of January – is the fact the ninth-place teams are 10 games back.

LaMarcus Aldridge scored 28 points and Rookie of the Year favorite Damian Lillard added 24, as the Trail Blazers opened the second quarter with a 14-0 run and were never seriously challenged thereafter.

They led by as many as 28 and watched that lead mostly dissipate in garbage time.

Searching for energy and efficiency, coach Tom Thibodeau settled on the unconventional lineup of Nate Robinson, Jimmy Butler, Marco Belinelli, Nazr Mohammed and Gibson and rode them most of the fourth quarter.

Robinson's spectacular second dunk of the season, in which he first split a double-team with a between-the-legs dribble, sparked a 16-4 run that finally awoke the crowd.

But the Trail Blazers, who shot 10 of 21 from 3-point range, kept coming up with big plays. J.J. Hickson grabbed a career-high 21 rebounds. Wes Matthews added 11 points with three 3-pointers.

Hinrich, who had missed seven games with a sore right foot, missed six of seven shots and couldn't stop Lillard.

"Very impressive for a rookie," Thibodeau said of Lillard. "He's mature beyond his years, came in with a lot of poise."

Gibson looked strong after missing 10 games with a sprained MCL in his left knee, finishing with 14 points and nine rebounds in 25 minutes.

Star of the game: LaMarcus Aldridge, Trail Blazers, 28 points

Up next: Pacers at Bulls, 7 p.m. Saturday (WGN/1000 AM)

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