Vengeance is Bulls', learneth the Nets


Jordan in mourning after Carolina loss

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CHICAGO -- Scottie Pippen led Chicago with 31 points Saturday as the Bulls clinched their fifth Central Division title in seven years by defeating the New Jersey Nets 111-101.

Michael Jordan scored eight of his 21 during a pivotal fourth-quarter burst as Chicago (62-9) avenged a 99-98 loss at New Jersey on March 14.

The Bulls must finish 11-0 if they hope to beat their NBA record of 72 wins.

"We have a little bit of a haul, but we know that four or five wins will put this thing to bed as far as home-court advantage in the conference and the league," Bulls coach Phil Jackson said.

"If we play a couple more good games like this, we will be at the point that we wanted to be at all season."

Luc Longley added 17 points for the Bulls, who have won 28 consecutive home games and can match the best home record in NBA history by winning its final five home games.

The Bulls' only home loss came on Dec. 7 to Miami. They went 39-2 at home last season and are trying to tie the mark set by the 1985-86 Boston Celtics, who went 40-1 at home.

Jim Jackson scored a season-high 33 points and Sam Cassell added 29 for the Nets, who had won three of their last four games. New Jersey erased nearly all of a 17-point deficit in the second quarter.

"The Bulls are just a tough team to beat period," Jackson said. "As a team tonight, I thought we gave a good account of ourselves. Their bench was just too strong for us."

Pippen scored 12 points in the third quarter as Chicago widened a three-point halftime lead to 78-72 entering the final period.

A basket by Kerry Kittles pulled New Jersey within 82-76 with 10:29 remaining before Jordan took over, scoring 10 of Chicago's next 14 points to give Chicago a 106-91 advantage with 1:39 remaining.

"That was a good game for us to play at this time of year," Jackson said. "They are a quick team and played with a lot of energy."

Toni Kukoc scored 17 points and Jordan added 10 assists for the Bulls, who shot 50 percent (45 for 90) from the field and were outrebounded 41-36.

Kendall Gill scored 18 points and Eric Montross pulled down 10 rebounds for the Nets, who shot 47 percent (39 for 83) and made 16 of 16 free throws.

Bulls backup center Bill Wennington hurt his left foot in the fourth quarter and will probably undergo an MRI.

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