The momentum is theirs. The Bulls may have found it in time to challenge the Milwaukee Bucks and the Philadelphia 76ers for a playoff berth.
Their 95-66 victory Tuesday night over the struggling Portland Trail Blazers at the United Center had the kind of flair and vitality that has been lacking most of the season.
"With 18 [games] to go, they don't get much bigger," Bulls coach Scott Skiles said. "It's not like if we don't win we're out of it. It's just a very important game."
The Bulls' last two victories have come against floundering teams but nonetheless provided a valuable shot in the arm. They will be hard-pressed to maintain it against the Bucks and Miami on Saturday.
"I think we can send a message," Ben Gordon said. "That we're right behind you guys. We're on your tail."
Gordon regained the form that had eluded him in three previous games when he scored 23 points to lead four Bulls in double figures. Zach Randolph led all scorers with 25 points, but he was the only Trail Blazer in double digits.
The Bulls, who led by as many as 38, outscored the Blazers 28-12 in the third quarter. The Blazers' 66 points were a season low.
"I thought our defense was outstanding," Skiles said. "We've been playing very good defense for somewhere from four to six weeks. Our half-court defense has become very good."
The Bulls' starters put the game out of reach for Portland in the third quarter, which allowed Skiles to rest starters for a chunk of the second half.
Every Bull had a vital role. Luke Schenscher, who will sign a second 10-day contract Wednesday, wowed 20,604 fans with sweet hook shots. He drew chants of "Luke" throughout the fourth quarter.
Eric Piatkowski and Jannero Pargo came off the bench with their trademark sound shooting, and their contributions had added significance with Chris Duhon sitting out to nurse a sore lower back.
The Bulls also were missing Darius Songaila, who broke his right foot Friday and is expected to miss the remainder of the regular season.
This is familiar territory for the Bulls, who finished last season without Luol Deng and Eddy Curry.
Increasingly, Kirk Hinrich is showing steadiness on offense to give the Bulls confidence. Known for his streaky shooting, which sometimes has a trickle-down effect on the rest of his game, Hinrich has been solid in the last six games. He scored 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting.
"We don't look at him as an inconsistent player," Skiles said. "He always brings it. We're asking him to do an awful lot. We're asking a guy with point guard size to guard bigger guards every night. That's not really fair so some of the offensive things he can do are secondary.
"But I know he feels a lot better about himself when he's able to knock down open shots and score some for us."
Bulls 95, Trail Blazers 66