December 17, 2014

Considering all the Chicago Bulls have endured this season, they finally appear healthy and confident now that it matters most.

Looking to complete a sweep of their four-game homestand, the Bulls could have an easier time if Carmelo Anthony isn't available for the New York Knicks in Wednesday night's opener of a home-and-home series.

Despite lingering injuries to key players, frequent stretches of underachieving and a failure to always buy into the philosophy of first-year coach Fred Hoiberg, Chicago (36-33) has won three in a row and holds a .001 percent lead over Detroit for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

"We've had some ups and downs, but we are finding ways to win games," guard Derrick Rose told the Bulls' official website.

In Monday's 109-102 win over Sacramento, Rose and Taj Gibson each scored 18 and Pau Gasol added 14 with 14 rebounds in 24 minutes, making his return after missing four games with a knee problem. Though the Bulls blew a 12-point lead, they overcame a five-point fourth-quarter deficit to win for the eighth time in 10 home games.

"We have to continue to go out and battle and hopefully play more consistently the next game," Hoiberg said. "The big thing was the overall urgency we showed down the stretch whereas before if we had a lead and it got cut it would continue to spiral the wrong direction. ... (Monday) the guys showed some toughness."

Perhaps that perseverance came from Monday's starting lineup of Gibson, Gasol, Rose, Mike Dunleavy and leading scorer Jimmy Butler. The configuration was the Bulls' desired one to start the season, but opened a game for just the second time.

Chicago won both of those contests.

"That group is pretty good," Dunleavy said. "Hopefully, if we can get healthy and stay healthy that's the key, round into form and give ourselves a chance to make the playoffs.

"There's a sense of confidence and comfort level with that group."

Rose has averaged 19.9 points and 52.4 percent shooting while playing 12 of 17 games since the All-Star break. Gibson has averaged 15.0 points in three games and second-year reserve Doug McDermott is averaging 19.4 while going 17 of 28 from 3-point range in the last five.

Chicago has averaged 106.9 points and shot 48.3 percent in the last 10 at home.

The Bulls went 5 of 21 from beyond the arc in a 107-91 loss at New York (28-43) on Dec. 19, but hit 10 of 16 to rout the Knicks 108-81 at home New Year's Day.

Anthony totaled 47 points in those games but could sit after a migraine forced him to miss Sunday's 88-80 loss to the Kings. Averaging 84.7 points and shooting 38 percent in a three-game skid, New York trailed 28-12 after one quarter Sunday en route to falling to 0-8 without Anthony.

"You take 'Melo out of the scenario, you can be a little more chancy and risky because you don't get maybe blown up because of your decisions," Sacramento coach George Karl said.

New York's Robin Lopez had 23 points and a career-high 20 rebounds after totaling 11 and 11 boards in the previous two contests. He has 12 points, nine rebounds and four turnovers in the two games against the Bulls this season.

The teams conclude the season series Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.

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