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Noah, Hughes help Bulls hold off Bucks

Mar 30, 2008 - 4:49 AM CHICAGO (Ticker) -- Rookie Joakim Noah helped keep the Chicago Bulls faint playoff hopes alive.

Noah scored a season-high 18 points and grabbed 15 rebounds for his sixth double-double of the season as the Bulls defeated the struggling Milwaukee Bucks, 114-111, on Saturday.

The win allowed Chicago (29-44) to pull within 3 1/2 games of idle Atlanta (32-40) for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with nine games left on the Bulls' schedule.

"We are still in a tough situation as far as getting into the playoffs," Bulls interim coach Jim Boylan said. "We're not going to quit fighting. We have asked our players to do that until the bitter end."

Chicago, which ended a two-game skid, also received 19 points from Larry Hughes and 17 from reserve Andres Nocioni. The Bulls had seven players finish in double-figure scoring.

"I don't think my role has changed but I am getting more minutes," Noah said. "My comfort level is getting better, and I feel I know what I have to do to help this team win."

However, Chicago, which led by nine after the first quarter, 13 at halftime and 17 entering the final period, let Milwaukee back in the game late in the fourth.

After building a 98-77 advantage 53 seconds into final quarter, the Bulls watched the Bucks go on a 19-2 burst, capped by a pair of foul shots by Ramon Sessions with 7:03 left.

"I thought Ramon Sessions gave us a nice lift off the bench," Bucks coach Larry Krystkowiak said. "In the first half, we could not get a stop, then we got energized and came back."

Chicago again built a double-digit lead after Noah split two free throws to up the Bulls' advantage to 112-102 with 2:09 remaining. Noah connected on 7-of-13 from the floor and added four blocks.

"Joakim had a great game for us," Boylan said. "He was active and did a great job rebounding for us. He is getting used to the physical level of play in this league."

Milwaukee had one more charge, cutting its deficit to 112-109 on a layup by Michael Redd with 32 ticks on the clock, but Hughes nailed two shots from the line with 14 seconds left to secure the win.

"We understand the situation we have," Hughes said. "Anything is still possible, but we want to have something to carry into next year."

Luol Deng had 16 points and seven rebounds and Kirk Hinrich and reserve Ben Gordon each scored 11 for Chicago, which shot 47.5 percent (38-of-80) and have won six of seven vs. Milwaukee.

"We still have chances but bottom line is we weren't good enough this year," Deng said. "No matter what, injuries, trades, new coaches, you have to look in a mirror and say we weren't good enough. It has been a tough year."

Redd scored 11 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter and Charlie Villanueva had 26 and nine rebounds for the Bucks, who shot 45 percent (44-of-98) and have dropped 10 of their last 11 games.

"It has been a tough month for us," Villanueva said. "We can play better. If we start playing complete games, we will be fine. The talent is here."

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