SACRAMENTO (AP) — With leading scorer Jimmy Butler on the bench nursing a sore left knee, E’Twaun Moore figured he’d get plenty of chances to pick up the slack for Chicago.
Not only did Moore fill the scoring void created by Butler’s absence, he continued to make his case to become a permanent part of the Bulls’ starting lineup — something a few of his high-profile teammates such as Butler and Derrick Rose have already been calling for.
Moore scored a career-high 24 points while starting in place of Butler, and Chicago overcame a sloppy finish to beat the Sacramento Kings 107-102 on Wednesday night.
“I knew our team needed a spark,” said Moore, who shot 9 of 16 from the floor. “It was so important to start the game off well and get us going in the right direction. I did that and it helped out a lot.”
Pau Gasol added 16 points, 13 rebounds and made two free throws with 4.3 seconds remaining to help the Bulls to their first win in Sacramento in more than four years. Rose had 21 points and nine assists, and Taj Gibson scored 12.
The Bulls led 101-92 with 2:40 left but struggled to close out the Kings. Chicago committed two turnovers and made only one basket down the stretch before pulling out the win at the free throw line.
“We had a couple plays there at the end that hurt us,” coach Fred Hoiberg said. “But it feels great to find a way to finish it.”
DeMarcus Cousins had 30 points and 11 rebounds in his return to Sacramento’s lineup. The All-Star center missed two baskets and two free throws in the final 40 seconds.
Moore made just his fourth start of the season after Butler — Chicago’s leading scorer — was ruled out with tendinitis in his knee.
The Bulls didn’t seem to miss a beat without Butler.
Moore, who had 15 points in the first half, helped keep Chicago’s offense running and repeatedly hurt Sacramento from the perimeter. He seemed to wear down late and missed two free throws with 10.4 seconds left, but the Bulls hung on to end their two-game skid.
“He just always ended up in the right place at the right time,” said Kings forward Rudy Gay, who had 12 points before fouling out late in the fourth quarter. “He just kind of hit everything.”
It was Chicago’s first win in Sacramento since Dec. 29, 2011.
Despite being without Butler, the Bulls had little problem scoring early. Chicago led by double figures most of the first half and got a big boost from Moore, who had 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting — including a trio of 3-pointers.
Chicago was still comfortably ahead midway through the second quarter when Sacramento made a late push behind Darren Collison to cut the gap to 50-47 at halftime.
Bulls: Moore’s previous career best was 19 points against Oklahoma City on March 5, 2015. ... Bobby Portis got a little chippy after taking a hard elbow from the Kings’ Omri Casspi in the second quarter. The two men exchanged words and came face to face before each was called for a technical foul.
Kings: Marco Belinelli made his second consecutive start and just his third overall in place of Ben McLemore, who has been nursing a sore wrist. McLemore had five points and three assists in 18 minutes off the bench. ... Rajon Rondo was questionable before the game with a sore toe but scored six points and had nine assists. . Sacramento’s final four games before the All-Star break are on the road. ... Former Kings player and current Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson sat courtside.
Rose has been one of Moore’s most vocal supporters and kept it up after Moore committed only one turnover against Sacramento. “(He) has a huge opportunity in front of him with Coach putting him out there,” Rose said. “I told him before the game to just be aggressive and try to protect the ball a little more.”
ANOTHER SLOW START
The Kings made it close at the end but couldn’t overcome their sloppy start in the first quarter when the Bulls scored 34 points. That’s become a pattern lately at Sleep Train Arena, leaving Sacramento and coach George Karl to call it a nightmare situation. “I’ve never had this many games on the home court come out flat,” Karl said. “You run out of energy. It’s not a good formula for success.”
Bulls: At Denver on Friday.
Kings: At Brooklyn on Friday.