The way things have been going for the Bulls all year, not even a sense of relief comes easily.
Getting both Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson back from injury was supposed to be good news. And after the controversial loss to a streaking Denver squad Monday, a visit from the struggling Portland Trail Blazers seemed to be just what they needed.
Not quite. After getting bombarded in the second and third quarters, a futile comeback fell short and the Bulls lost again 99-89 at the United Center. They’ve now dropped six of their last eight games.
“We got smacked,” Joakim Noah said. “It’s tough, man. We’re not playing great right now. It’s disappointing. This is the final stretch. We’re not getting it done. We’ve got to find a way.”
Only so much of this performance could be chalked up to a changing lineup. The Bulls (36-31) had a decent first quarter with Hinrich back with the starters. Gibson finished with 14 points and 9 rebounds after missing 10 games with a left knee sprain.
“I felt good, at times. I just have to keep playing,” Gibson said. “It’s not going to be perfect. They told me, there’s still going to be a little bit of pain. It’s all about just pushing through that. I understand it’s coming down late to the wire and we’re going to need everybody.”
Hinrich had missed seven games with his latest injury, a sore right foot. He reported no issues after the contest.
“I didn’t feel like I was really out of rhythm,” he said. “I got a little bit winded there, just because I wasn’t able to do much. Individually, health-wise, I was encouraged.”
Now if the Bulls could only figure out how to stop the bad losses from piling up. They went nearly two years without a 20-point defeat, until losing to the Clippers in November.
Now struggling to stay competitive is a common occurrence, with last week’s 42-point loss in Sacramento the worst example. Against Portland, the final margin was 10 points, but the Bulls trailed 80-53 heading into the fourth quarter.
During the second and third quarters, the Bulls were outscored by an outrageous margin of 60-32. Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge (28 points) got it going early and that seemed to open up the perimeter. The Blazers hit 10 of 21 shots from 3-point range.
“I knew there would be some rust,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “But there’s no getting around it. You’ve got to go through it.
“We’re winding down now. Part of it is we’re moving guys around quite a bit. You have to get that part done. Whatever you’re being asked to do, you’ve got to get out there and get it done. Right now, we’re not getting it done.”
It was a minor consolation that Gibson, Jimmy Butler and backup center Nazr Mohammed led the fourth quarter comeback. They opened with a 16-4 run, but the Bulls were in too deep a hole to climb out.
“I thought the spirit of that group was very, very good,” Thibodeau said. “They played with great energy, very good team spirit, hustle. Made them miss some shots, got out in transition, shared the ball. I thought the hustle united and inspired that group.
“It’s important to play with the lead. Again, the second quarter, once you give up the points the way we did, then the game becomes easy for hem. They’re playing with more confidence and now it’s hard to shut them off. We gave them confidence early and it hurt us.”
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