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Kukoc, Bulls Top Nets

In the 10 days since the New Jersey Nets last visited Chicago, they've fired their coach, picked up a new point guard and resurrected Rony Seikaly from the injured list.

The only thing that didn't change was the result: Bulls 104, New Jersey 95.

"They look much different," Bulls forward Brent Barry said of this week's version of the Nets. "(But) they're still struggling to find out who they are. It's going to take awhile. They're struggling, and we had to take advantage of it."

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  • Toni Kukoc scored 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds Thursday as the Bulls (7-16) put together one of their best offensive performances all season. All five starters were in double figures by the end of the third quarter. Ron Harper had 10 of his 18 points in the third quarter. Chicago finished 37-of-78 (47 percent) from the floor.

    It was Chicago's second victory in 10 days over the slumping Nets (4-19), and only their second 100-point effort of the season. The other? Last week's 103-87 rout of New Jersey.

    The Nets, playing their third game in as many days, have now lost nine of their last 10 and 15 of their last 17. New Jersey fired coach John Calipari on Tuesday, and interim coach Don Casey is 1-2.

    "We have no long-term goals," Casey said. "We're day-by-day now, and have gotten away from hour-by-hour. I think our confidence factor is just not there yet. Guys are not getting to the spots where they're comfortable."

    Stephon Marbury led the Nets with 24, his fourth 20-plus game since being traded from Minnesota last week. But he got off to a slow start, and didn't find his groove until late when the Bulls already had the game under control. Fourteen of his points came in the fourth quarter, and he finished 7-of-24 from the floor. He was 1-of-7 in the first half.

    The Nets also got 20 from Kerry Kittles, who was 4-of-7 from 3-point range.

    "Randy Brown on Marbury was very significant," Bulls coach im Floyd said. "Randy did a good job of keeping between him and the basket. Marbury's shots, especially down the stretch, were under pressure."

    Not so, Brown said.

    "I didn't put any clamps on Stephon," Brown said. "He missed some shots, and I got some help from four other guys."

    The Bulls went on an 18-5 run at the end of the first half and beginning of the second, taking a 60-51 lead on Harper's dunk with 8:52 left in the third quarter. Harper capped an 8-0 run at the end of the third with a jumper and a layup, giving Chicago an 80-65 to start the fourth quarter.

    "Old age is still here. I am still 35," Harper said. "But every once in a while, there's still some spring in these legs."

    The Bulls let the Nets back into the game as they went nearly the first four minutes of the last period without a field goal. The Nets took advantage of the drought, cutting the lead to 80-74 on Marbury's two free throws with 9:15 left to play.

    But Kukoc nailed a jumper and converted on a three-point play, and the Nets couldn't get any closer.

    "In the second half, the game started slipping away from us," said Jayson Williams, who had 10 points and 15 rebounds. "We should have went back to (Kittles) and let him shoot us back into the game."

    As the Bulls got close to the 100-point mark, the United Center crowd went wild. Taco Bell gives every fan a free taco any time the Bulls go over 100 points at home, and the Chicago crowd takes its free food seriously.

    Kukoc, who also put the Bulls over the 100-point mark last week, went to the free throw line with 1:04 left and the Bulls ahead 99-88. The crowd groaned when he missed his first free throw, but he sank the second, drawing huge cheers and a standing ovation.

    "I fed 46,000 people so far," Kukoc said, smiling as Harper yelled "Taco Toni." "Not many people have done that."

    Notes: It was four years ago Thursday that Michael Jordan announced he was coming out of retirement. He played his first game the following day, scoring 19 points in Chicago's overtime loss at the Indiana Pacers. In a strange twist of deja vu, Chicago will play at Indiana on Friday night. But don't expect Jordan to suit up. ... Bulls rookie Corey Benjamin was placed on the injured reserve list with tonsillitis ... Chicago's 30 points in the first quarter was its highest output since scoring 33 in the first quarter against the L.A. Clippers.

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