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Nocioni's double-double lifts Bulls past Bobcats

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Andres Nocioni has been doing his best to
try and carry the Chicago Bulls into the playoffs.

Nocioni had 24 points and 11 rebounds and the Bulls beat the
Charlotte Bobcats 113-107 on Friday night.

"I played a good game, but I'm so happy because the team won,"
Nocioni said. "The last time I played well and we lost. For me the
most important thing is to make the playoffs."

Luol Deng scored 21 points and Chris Duhon added 19 for the
Bulls, who remained 1½ games behind Philadelphia in the battle for
the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 10 games
remaining. The 76ers beat the Knicks 117-112.

Nocioni, who had a career-high 26 points and grabbed 10 rebounds
Tuesday against Orlando, has made 24-of-44 shots since being held
to two points on 1-of-7 shooting against New Orleans on March 24.

Signed as a free-agent by Chicago in Aug. 2004, Nocioni is
averaging 18.5 points in the past 12 games.

"He brings toughness and exuberance to our group," Bulls coach
Scott Skiles said. "He's legitimately trying to get in there and
take contact. I thought all around he was excellent tonight."

Jumaine Jones scored 28 points and Gerald Wallace added 26 and
12 rebounds for the Bobcats, who surrendered 100 or more points for
the ninth consecutive game.

"They came out with a lot of energy. They're still fighting for
a playoff spot," Jones said. "We just came out slow."

The Bulls, who had lost two straight games to the Bobcats, each
by 13 points, fell behind 21-17 on Jones' fastbreak dunk with 6:03
left in the first quarter. Skiles called a timeout, and Chicago
immediately went on a 14-0 run, capped by Deng's reverse layup.

"I just sprinkled the magic dust on them and they took off,"
Skiles said. "I don't remember what I said."

Chicago never trailed again, but after building a 24-point lead,
the Bulls let the Bobcats get within five in the closing minute.
Unlike Tuesday when the Bulls managed just 11 fourth-quarter points
in a loss to Orlando, Deng and Ben Gordon combined to hit 5-of-6
free throws to close it out.

"Sometimes we have pressure in the last five minutes and today
that happened again. I think everybody is thinking about that,"
Nocioni said. "Everybody has to play relaxed and make free throws
and hit the open shots. We are professionals."

Chicago slowly built the lead in the first half by taking the
ball inside against Charlotte, without much resistance. Deng's
three-point play in the final minute was part of a 7-0 spurt to end
the half that put the Bulls ahead 67-43 as Chicago shot 61 percent
in the first half.

"The alarm clock didn't go off until the second half," Bobcats
coach Bernie Bickerstaff. "We didn't match their intensity on
defense. We got hung up on fools' gold. Jump shots were going in,
but we didn't stop anybody. The deficit was too much to overcome."

The Bobcats made several runs in the second half behind Wallace,
who scored 14 points after halftime. Charlotte got within eight
points on Jones' 3 with 10:33 left, but Nocioni scored on a post
move on the next possession.

Duhon's second straight 3-pointer with 3:54 left put Chicago up
101-87. Nocioni fouled out with 3:04 left, and while the Bobcats
rallied, it wasn't enough.

Game notes
The Bulls play the 76ers two more times, on April 5 and 8.
... Skiles said Darius Songaila, out with a broken right foot,
might be able to return if the Bulls make the playoffs. ... Bobcats
center Primoz Brezec had eight points and four rebounds after
missing Tuesday's game with back spasms.