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Bulls ratchet up belief system with road victory over Lakers

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Updated: February 9, 2014 11:05PM

LOS ANGELES — The Bulls keep finding ways to win games, lose Ping-Pong balls and convince themselves they’ve got a chance to be something.

With Derrick Rose out for the season, Luol Deng long gone and Carlos Boozer missing his second consecutive game with a calf injury, the Bulls beat the short-handed Los Angeles Lakers 92-86 with a typical Tom Thibodeau-inspired effort.

Taj Gibson replaced Boozer in the starting lineup, scored 12 points in the first quarter to help the Bulls build a 13-point lead and finished with 18 points and six rebounds. Joakim Noah started slowly but picked it up just as Gibson was losing a little steam and added 20 points and 13 rebounds — playing the final 6:53 with five fouls.

Kirk Hinrich hit three three-point shots and scored 17 points. And D.J. Augustin, never known for his defense before he came to Chicago, made the defensive play of the game with a steal in the final minute to secure the wire-to-wire victory.

It left the Bulls with a .500 road trip (3-3) and a .500 overall record (25-25) — signs of encouragement, all things considered.

‘‘You look at our roster and we’re up and down with our injuries. We never know who’s going to play,’’ Gibson said. ‘‘But it’s all about us believing in one another and having heart.

‘‘We’ve played with heart all year and we’re going to continue to do that. Like Thibs says, we’re right there at the third seed [in the Eastern Conference]. We smell blood. We’ve been in this position many times. I think we’re really kickin’ in now.’’

The Lakers (18-33) were more short-handed than the Bulls — playing without Kobe Bryant (fractured knee), Pau Gasol (strained groin), Jodie Meeks (sprained ankle) and Nick Young — (fractured knee).

‘‘We wanted to throw the first punch,’’ Noah said, and that the Bulls did — they scored the first 10 points of the game, led 34-23 after one period and never trailed.

After building a 19-point lead at 72-53 on a three-pointer by Hinrich with 3:29 left in the third quarter, the Bulls failed to land a knockout punch and had to hang on at the end.

When Noah was called for his fifth foul with the Bulls ahead 82-71, Thibodeau kept him in the game. Lakers center Chris Kaman, who averages 8.7 points per game, ­already had 21 of his 27 points at the time.

‘‘It was too tight,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘Either we were going to win it with him or that was going to be it. I didn’t think we could afford two or three minutes, so we rolled the dice and we were fortunate.’’

His instinct was right on. The Lakers got within 88-84 with 48 seconds left. Augustin missed a jumper, but recovered to steal a pick-and-roll pass to Kaman, then hit free throws down the stretch to clinch it.

‘‘Huge,’’ Thibodeau said of ­Augustin’s play. ‘‘The game’s on the line, so it’s a big multiple-effort play. Sometimes that’s the difference between winning and losing.’’


Twitter: @MarkPotash

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