During the Bulls' three-day break this week, maybe coach Tom Thibodeau should have played a couple of simulated games. Or brought in one of the state's many idle college teams for a scrimmage.
Rest was no friend of the Bulls on Friday.
Against a Portland squad playing its fourth game in five nights, it was the Bulls who looked exhausted and sluggish. They let the Trail Blazers open a 24-point lead early in the third quarter and zombie-stepped their way to a 91-74 loss at the United Center.
"No excuses. We didn't have the edge we usually do," Joakim Noah said. "Maybe the break did something, maybe it didn't. We're disappointed, but you've got to bounce back."
It's easy to blame the three-day break, but a familiar problem played a huge role in this game -- outside shooting. While Portland knocked down 10 of 22 shots from 3-point range, the Bulls were a dismal 3 of 17.
Even after a poor-shooting first half, the Bulls were within striking range at halftime, trailing 47-36. At the start of the third quarter, though, the Blazers airmailed a 13-2 run in less than three minutes. Nicholas Batum drained a pair of 3-pointers in that stretch, while Wesley Matthews hit another.
When LaMarcus Aldridge added a lay in, Portland (47-27) led 62-38 with 7:56 left in the third quarter, sending most everyone in attendance searching for a television to watch the NCAA games.
"We were flat," Thibodeau said. "They had something to do with it. We didn't cover the line the way we needed to. It just seemed like we were a step behind the play."
Poor shooting is an old story for the Bulls (40-32). Kirk Hinrich had to sit with foul trouble in the first half and went 0-for-6 from the field. Mike Dunleavy finished 1-for-9.
There was a huge cheer when Jimmer Fredette went into the game with 3:56 remaining. He went 1-for-2 from long range, making him the Bulls' best 3-point shooter of the night.
Carlos Boozer led the Bulls with 16 points and 12 rebounds, after scoring 10 points in the first quarter. D.J. Augustin added 15 points and 7 assists, but hit just 1 of 7 attempts from 3-point range. Taj Gibson finished with 13 points and 10 boards.
"I thought we got some good looks early on that didn't go down and it sort of snowballed from there," Dunleavy said. "Just one of those nights, not our best. Not our best, for sure."
Portland has clearly gotten a lift from the return of Aldridge, who came back Thursday after missing seven games with a back injury. The Blazers have now won two in a row after going 4-9 over a stretch of 13 games.
Veteran guard Mo Williams scored 18 off the bench, while second-year guard Damien Lillard had 16. But Portland's best player on this night might have been center Robin Lopez. While the Bulls couldn't buy a 3-pointer, Lopez made it tough to score inside, finishing with 5 blocks to go with 13 points.
This performance is tied for the Bulls' second-lowest scoring game of the season. The worst was 70 points at Sacramento on Feb. 3.
"Today is just a bump in the road," Noah added. "I think we're all disappointed with the way we played tonight. The edge wasn't where it needed to be. But I'm 100 percent sure we'll get it back."
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