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Kids growing up

Tribune staff reporter

Eddy Curry's hair is growing fuller by the day, a follicle philosophy he swears has nothing to do with the Bulls' recent growth spurt.

If it did, and if the Bulls continue to turn out performances like Monday's, Curry soon may look like Ben Wallace.

Something indeed is growing at the United Center, but what shape it takes remains to be seen.

For now, the Bulls are content with posting their first four-game winning streak since March 20, 1998, after a 92-87 victory over Portland before a crowd of 19,023.

First came a victory on the extended November or "circus" trip for the first time since the dynasty days. And now this.

No wonder His Airness, Michael Jordan, watched the proceedings from a suite and visited the Bulls' locker room afterward.

"This is night and day from even two months ago," Curry said. "We feel like we can compete with anybody if we go out with the right mind-set. We haven't in any way reached our peak."

Ben Gordon led the Bulls with 23 points and Curry scored 16 of his 18 points after halftime, adding eight rebounds.

Playing two days after he suffered a concussion and bruised jaw, Antonio Davis delivered 12 points and 12 gritty rebounds, despite taking two shots to his face.

Kirk Hinrich added 17 points and five assists.

"Chicago runs the best sets I have seen," Portland guard Damon Stoudamire said.

But the Bulls won again with defense, limiting Portland to 39 percent shooting.

"We were able to overcome our mistakes with defense," coach Scott Skiles said.

Gordon's output came on a wide variety of jumpers and tough, driving layups, shots on which he contorted himself like a snake around defenders.

His biggest basket came after Portland had ripped off a 9-2 run to pull within 84-83. First, Hinrich sank two free throws, and then Gordon lined up a wide-open three-pointer that swished through with 2 minutes 57 seconds remaining.

"I always try to stay calm," Gordon said.

Portland's Zach Randolph sandwiched baskets around a strong Curry power move, then Hinrich alertly faked Ruben Patterson into the air and earned two free throws, which he split with 39.1 seconds left to make it 92-87.

After a Randolph miss, Deng bricked two free throws with 11 seconds left—the Bulls shot 18 of 22 from the line—but Portland couldn't draw up a five-point play in the ensuing timeout.

After early foul trouble, Curry took over in the third, a quarter the Bulls began with a 10-2 run and ended with a 73-63 lead. Curry sank all four of his shots—including two left-handed dunks, a rarity—and scored 10 points with six rebounds.

Randolph's 26 points paced Portland, which played without the injured Shareef Abdur-Rahim.

Skiles and the players talked openly of another ghost from the dynasty days falling.

"I think you're making a mistake if you act like it's nothing or, on the other hand, try to build it up too much," Skiles said. "There have been an awful lot of players who have come through here who haven't won four in a row."

Jordan wasn't one of them. And, now, neither are any of the 2004-05 Bulls.

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