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Bulls outgun Kings, 121-115

By Jason Jones, McClatchy Newspapers –

CHICAGO — The Sacramento Kings might have made the Eastern Conference-leading Bulls uncomfortable late, rallying to cut a 19-point lead to two with 14.8 seconds left.

(PHOTO: Chicago Bulls small forward Kyle Korver (26) defends against Sacramento Kings power forward DeMarcus Cousins (15) during the first half of their game at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois, on Tuesday, February 14, 2012.)

But there were too many moments when it was just too easy for Chicago to score.

The Bulls shot 52.4 percent to overcome big scoring nights by DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton and beat the Kings 121-115 Tuesday night at United Center.

Cousins, Evans and Thornton combined for 78 points, and the Kings scored a season high, topping their 114 in an overtime win over Golden State on Feb. 4.

The Kings shot 47.2 percent, their third-best shooting night of the season. But the Bulls had plenty of open shots, thanks to defensive breakdowns that have plagued the Kings and contributed to their being one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA.

Kings coach Keith Smart said his team has to do more to make it tough on the opposition and not cheat too much off good shooters.

Smart lamented how sharpshooter Kyle Korver was left open more than once, and he made 4 of 5 three-point attempts.

“You’ve got to make guys miss shots,” Smart said. “We just can’t hope that they miss.”

With the win, Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau will coach the Eastern Conference All-Stars because the Bulls have the East’s best record (24-7) as of Wednesday.

Chicago had 33 assists, the most by a Kings opponent this season. Third-string point guard John Lucas, playing because reigning MVP Derrick Rose missed his third consecutive game with back spasms, recorded a career-high nine assists. Luol Deng supplied 23 points and 11 assists for Chicago.

“They just execute very well,” Evans said. “They make people help (on defense), and they’ve got shooters that can knock down shots, so it’s kind of tough to play them. That’s what really killed us.”

What also hurt the Kings (10-18) was a stretch without Cousins. He was called for his fourth foul with 4:07 left in the third quarter and the Kings trailing 74-68. When Cousins returned with 9:52 to play, the Kings were behind by 16.

Cousins appeared to block Joakim Noah’s shot cleanly off the backboard when called for the foul.

“That was a big play, and he did everything right and defended the way you’re supposed to defend that play from the top of the floor,” Smart said. “He had a great game going for himself tonight.”

Cousins matched his season high with 28 points to go with 17 rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots.

“They took advantage of the situation,” Cousins said. “All credit to them. We still had a chance to win this game, but we didn’t.”

Smart would like to see the Kings not have to fight back from double-digit deficits.

“We’ve just got to figure out a way to make those kind of winning plays during the course of a game so that we’re not in those situations late in a game and now the focus is at a different level,” Smart said. “We’ve got to have that same kind of focus throughout the game.”

Rookie Jimmer Fredette missed the game because of a stomach illness, but he said he would be ready for Wednesday night’s game at New York.

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