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Bulls Look To Get Better On The Road

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AP
Here's a quick way for the Chicago Bulls to measure their playoff readiness: go play the Eastern Conference's top three teams in four days.

After visiting Cleveland to meet LeBron James and the Cavs on Thursday, the Bulls return home to match up with Gilbert Arenas and the Washington Wizards the next night. They'll take Saturday off, then motor over to Detroit, where Ben Wallace will play for the first time since signing with the Bulls as a free agent.

"The Palace will be rocking," Wallace said. "They know I'm coming."

With 27 games to play, it's time to see if the Bulls _ five games over .500 _ can make a playoff push with their young cast of scorers and if Wallace can make a difference in the middle as envisioned.

"I'm comfortable," said Wallace, who signed a four-year, $60 million deal and is averaging 6.1 points and 10.3 rebounds. "I feel like, you know, I made the adjustment."

He and coach Scott Skiles had some uncomfortable times early in the season when Wallace flouted a team rule by wearing a headband and was benched during a game. But that's old news.

Now Big Ben is ready to return to the place where he won an NBA title when the Bulls go to Detroit for the first time all season.

Paxson told the Chicago Sun-Times last week that signing Wallace to such a big deal was not a mistake.

"It is typical when you sign a free agent to a huge contract that, all of a sudden, he is judged solely by the dollars he is making," Paxson said.

The Bulls' offense relies on the outside shooting and slashing of young players like Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, Luol Deng and Andres Nocioni. Nocioni has missed seven games with a foot injury, and the Bulls are 2-5 in that stretch.

There has been speculation that Paxson will look for inside scoring help as the Thursday trade deadline approaches. But he told reporters he's not ready to disassemble his young nucleus for a quick fix, even though Chicago has failed to get out of the first round of the playoffs the last two seasons.

But a low-post scorer is something the Bulls lack on a consistent basis.

"Adding a low-post scorer makes us that much better," said Gordon, who leads the team in scoring at 21 points per game. "It makes the game easier for our perimeter guys and for Ben Wallace to get on the boards. It would do nothing but help us."

But with players like Gordon and Deng blossoming into big-time scorers, it isn't the offense that concerns Skiles as much as his team's 9-18 road record.

"It's something we have to address, or we won't end up having a very good year," he said.

"Our record should be better, that's what our statistics show. ... Line up the teams in the East that are going to be in the playoffs and the teams trying to get in and look at everybody's road record. Ours sticks out."

Wallace said that's one reason the Pistons were so successful _ they expected to win on the road.

"You got to be able to go into a hostile environment and get a win. I don't necessarily care what the record on the road is from here on out, but we got to come on the road and put up a fight," he said.

"With the Pistons, we approached the game like we might not play our best, we may not make a lot of shots, it might not be a pretty game. But at the end of the day we got to find ways to win it. And that's what we did."