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Victory just out of reach for Bulls
Special to the Daily Herald

Chicago Bulls forward Joe Smith, right, goes to the hoop past Portland Trail Blazers forward Channing Frye during the first half Wednesday.


Associated Press

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Published: 2/7/2008 12:09 AM

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PORTLAND, Ore. -- The Bulls know what it's like to play shorthanded. They've been missing either Luol Deng, Ben Gordon or Kirk Hinrich in 15 of the last 17 games.

All three were sidelined at the same time on Wednesday night in Portland.

Missing three of their top four scorers, the Bulls nearly pulled a big surprise. Second-year guard Thabo Sefolosha stepped up with a career-high 22 points, but the Trail Blazers hung on for a 100-97 victory.

The Bulls (19-29) trailed by 3 points when Andres Nocioni drove into the lane and threw a pass off the hands of Ben Wallace and out of bounds for a turnover with 51.2 seconds remaining.

On the other end, Portland (28-20) took the shot clock down nearly all the way before Travis Outlaw dropped in to give the Blazers a 95-90 edge with 26.8 seconds left.

Sefolosha finished a driving layin, Portland's Jarrett Jack hit 1 of 2 free throws, then a Chris Duhon jumper made it 96-94 with 7.2 seconds on the clock. But Jack canned a pair of free throws to boost the lead to 4 points, making Nocioni's 3-pointer with :00.8 left inconsequential. Brandon Roy added 2 free throws for the final margin.

The Bulls' biggest problem this night was trying to contain Roy, who hit 12 of 19 shots for 28 points. Nocioni added 22 points for the Bulls, while Wallace tied his season-high with 12 points.

Hinrich sat out because of bruised ribs suffered late in Monday's win at Seattle. Gordon participated in the previous two games, but his sprained right wrist was too sore to play. Deng expects to miss the entire road trip due to left Achilles tendinitis.

The Bulls also subtracted a player voluntarily, agreeing to buy out the contract of forward Viktor Khryapa so he can play in Russia. Khryapa did not attend Wednesday's game.

Khryapa was acquired from Portland in the 2006 draft-night deal that exchanged the rights to Tyrus Thomas and LaMarcus Aldridge. But the 6-foot-9 forward rarely played. Ironically, his most consistent stretch in two seasons with the Bulls came in the past four games when he averaged 13 minutes.

Khryapa was in the final year of a deal that paid him $1.9 million this season and there was little to no chance he was going to re-sign with the Bulls as a free agent.

The timing seemed a little odd since the NBA trade deadline is just two weeks away and Khryapa's contract could have helped the Bulls match salaries in some sort of deal. But a team source said there are no trades pending and the Bulls simply wanted to do the right thing by Khryapa by setting him free.

Bulls forward Tyrus Thomas returned after missing Monday's game in Seattle with a sprained left foot.