By Mike McGraw
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This Bulls' team is becoming too predictable.
The bigger the challenge, the better they play. The harder they fall, the higher they bounce back.
On Wednesday night in Atlanta, the Bulls knocked down their first 7 shots from 3-point range, then regained their defense and rebounding edge on the way to an easy 98-77 victory at Philips Arena.
Monday's loss to Denver quickly became a distant memory as the Bulls (41-11) extended their streak of not losing twice in a row to 84 games. They improved to 13-5 when playing without Derrick Rose.
"It's been pretty remarkable, with all the guys that have gone down, to have the record that we do," Kyle Korver told reporters after the game. "Obviously, we'd rather have Derrick playing. But guys keep stepping up."
The Hawks, who lost at Milwaukee on Tuesday, actually jumped to a 16-9 lead. Once the two teams went to the benches, things got out of hand quickly.
The Bulls hit 12 of their first 15 shots in the second quarter on the way to a 25-point turnaround in a span of 15 minutes. When John Lucas III knocked down the visitors' seventh 3-pointer of the night, the Bulls led 54-36 with 2:34 left in the first half.
"I loved the energy of the team," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "Their attitude was great in the shootaround today, I thought we came out, the game didn't start perfectly for us, but we worked our way through the start and we just kept grinding away and it worked out for us."
Atlanta (30-22) got back into it, pulling within 4 points early in the third quarter. A Josh Smith jumper kept the Hawks within 62-56 midway through the third before the Bulls cranked up the defense and went on a 12-0 run that sent the game straight to garbage time.
That surge featured a pair of 3-pointers from Luol Deng, who knocked down 5 of 8 shots from long range for a game-high 22 points. Carlos Boozer added 20 and Taj Gibson scored 19 off the bench.
"We played great," Deng said. "Guys got easy looks because of the ball movement. The thing we did well is, even when they made their run, we responded right away. It was just a great team effort."
Korver left the game in the first half with a bloody gash on his face after taking an elbow from Hawks center Zaza Pachulia. He returned and was expected to receive stitches after the contest.
Gibson took a hard fall late in the game when Atlanta's Joe Johnson tried to prevent a dunk and ended up wrestling Gibson to the floor. Referees decided it was not a flagrant foul.
There was talk at the morning shootaround that shooting guard Richard Hamilton might play against the Hawks. He has been out with a bruised right shoulder since the March 5 game against Indiana.
Hamilton didn't play, but he may be back on the floor Friday when Detroit visits the United Center. Rose missed his eighth game with a groin strain, but he's also getting close to a return.
"I'm happy with my progress," Hamilton told reporters at shootaround. "I know it's not going to be pain-free. We just want to prevent me re-aggravating it.
"There's going to be pain. But as long as I can get my hand over my shoulder and be able to shoot the ball, I'll be fine."