Bulls 106, Pacers 91
Defense rests in Bulls' rout
Skiles not happy with effort vs. a shorthanded Pacers squad
Baston, a Bulls second-round pick in the same 1998 draft that netted them first-round pick Benjamin, was making just his second career start in just his 28th career NBA game.
the Bulls took advantage with a sometimes scintillating, mostly sloppy 106-91 victory.
"If the last couple of years, on a 1 to 5 [scale], our defense was a four, it's a two now," coach Scott Skiles said. "Until we make a commitment on that end, we're going to be jumbled up with the rest of the teams.
"We didn't challenge shots with authority. They drove by us at will. We had trouble helping. They went along the baseline at will."
Indiana shot 51.4 percent and played without leading scorer Jermaine O'Neal, who would've succumbed to either the food poisoning or flu that swept through the Pacers if he hadn't already had a left hamstring injury.
Starter and second-leading scorer Al Harrington stayed at the hotel with nausea. Sometimes starter Marquis Daniels did the same. For good measure, third-leading scorer Stephen Jackson served a one-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the team.
Jamaal Tinsley, who missed Indiana's morning shootaround with nausea and took a taxicab to the game, tallied 21 points and six assists in a gutsy effort.
"Our defense is something we have to tighten up," guard Kirk Hinrich said.
Ben Gordon scored 17 of his 23 points in the second half to lead the Bulls. But in what is becoming a broken record, Luol Deng and Andres Nocioni supplied the scoring and energy early.
Deng finished with 22 points on 8-for-11 shooting, while Nocioni added 19 points and seven rebounds.
Ben Wallace added just his second double-double as a Bull with 10 points and 13 rebounds.
Seven Bulls scored in double figures asSkiles used his shortest rotation all season. He didn't use anybody beyond his starters, Gordon and P.J. Brown until 77 seconds remained despite Indiana being so depleted.
"I wanted to make sure we'd get the win," Skiles said. "I didn't feel it, so I wanted to keep the main guys out there."
Brown has barely played some games.
"I'm still trying to find myself," he said.
After a sizzling start, the Pacers pulled to within nine on two occasions in the third and once in the fourth. That's why Skiles seemed prescient beforehand, answering a question about how short-handed teams can be hungrier and stage spirited efforts.
That didn't seem the case early, with the Bulls ripping off a 12-0 run and shooting a ridiculous 83.3 percent in a 42-point first quarter, a season high.
That marksmanship included hitting five of six three-pointers, with Nocioni draining all three of his en route to 11 points. Deng scored 10 in the opening 12 minutes, including a dunk over Baston.
"I'm just trying to be aggressive," Deng said.
For those wondering, Baston played well and with energy in his start for Indiana, finishing with 12 points.
But that's 40.8 points fewer than the 52.8 that Jackson, O'Neal, Harrington and Daniels average. Not that the Bulls care.