The Chicago Bulls started much too slowly to reach the 72 or 69 wins of the two previous championship seasons.
But with an 8-0 record since the All-Star break, they are once again chasing the NBA's best record."I think other teams are watching us. I think they can see we are starting to get healthy and into a rhythm," Michael Jordan said.
"Whatever edge we may have lost early in the season, I think we're starting to regain that with our success. We're starting to find our niche and groove and our roles."
The Bulls had an easy time Monday night, routing punchless Cleveland 97-75 in Chicago to improve their record to 42-15.
In the next 12 days, the Bulls play just three games, all at home. And they expect to win all three against the Portland, Sacramento and Denver, keeping the pressure on Seattle for the league's best mark and homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs.
Seattle improved to 42-13 with its victory over the Clippers.
PISTONS 111, KINGS 85: Grant Hill had 28 points and 13 rebounds in only 31 minutes in Detroit's rout of Sacramento. Brian Williams added 19 points for the Pistons, who led by as many as 31 points in the fourth quarter. Mitch Richmond and Terry Dehere led the visiting Kings with 14 apiece, but Richmond was only 3-for-12 from the field.
HORNETS 118, NUGGETS 98: Glen Rice scored 31 points, including 5-for-6 on 3-pointers, as Charlotte handed Denver its eighth straight defeat. Rice, averaging 27 points his last seven games, hit 11 of 16 shots from the field. Matt Geiger had 22 points and 11 rebounds for the visiting Hornets, while LaPhonso Ellis led the Nuggets with 23 points.
SONICS 101, CLIPPERS 100: Vin Baker scored 27 points and Gary Payton recovered from a cold start to score eight of his 12 points in the final four minutes as Seattle won at Los Angeles.