Bulls looking to right ship after two-game losing streak

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Bulls looking to right ship after two-game losing streak

Following Wednesday afternoons practice, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau was in high spirits, almost chipper. Perhaps it was because the basketball junkie finally had a chance to see his full roster practice, but his mood was in sharp contrast to the negative vibe emitting from him after Mondays home loss to Houston.

Our team needed it. We havent a lot of opportunity to practice, so it gave us a chance to clean up some things and hopefully itll carry over tomorrow, he said. Offensively, we havent been scoring the way we would like and its probably a compilation of things. Were playing low energy, so weve got to try to get some easier baskets. Now, weve shot the three fairly well, so thats been a plus, but overall, we havent shot well and were in a little bit of a lull. Hopefully the two days off will be good for us.

We feel great about our depth and weve got some guys who are nicked up in the backcourt, and theyre playing, but we do have good depth and sometimes you go through stretches where youre not shooting it well, and hopefully your defense and your rebounding will carry you through that, he continued. I thought the big thing in the last game was the whole year weve been a very good low-turnover team, but the Houston game we turned it over 19 times for 25 points. That really lost us the game.

Thats contrary to the message he sent Monday.

No edge, no defense, Thibodeau said after the Bulls blew a 15-point lead to lose to the Rockets at the United Center. I felt like we let go of the rope. Usually, were a team that has shown great fight all year, great resolve. Get down, fight back, never let go of the rope. The last two games, I felt we let go of the rope. We have to get that fight back. We have to get that edge back. Right now, were not playing well. We have to work our way out of it.

Its collective. Were capable of playing much better. The one thing I know about this league is things change quickly, both from good to bad and bad to good. We have a Boston team thats coming in and playing great. At this time of the year, you have teams playing with great urgency. Houston played a great game. They played hard. They fought. Theyre fighting for a playoff spot. Every night when you come in, you have to be ready to fight. People are playing for things. You relax, let your guard down, youre going to get knocked on your ass. Thats the way it is, he continued. If you do three things -- defend, rebound, keep your turnovers down -- youre going to be in position to win regardless of how you shoot. Right now, were bogged down scoring. If we do those other three things, well be in position to win. But were not defending, were turning it over and were not scoring. You cant win like that. We have to correct that. Thats the first step. We have to get that down.

His players didnt deny that the team is currently in a malaise.

I don't think we let go of the rope, but anytime we lose two in a row, questions creep in. Look, the only way we're going to get out of it is us. We fix it ourselves, We put ourselves in this great season and we're going to finish with it a great season. It's up to us to fix it, said Carlos Boozer. We'll figure it out.

Added Luol Deng: We've got to get back to the way we play, just find ways to win. We're not doing that right now.

It's a lot of things throughout the game that we've got to look at. The first thing is always defensively, but it's a lot of stuff, a lot of things we've got to go back, see what we're not doing and try to get back to what we do.

We just didn't bring it. There's still games left in the season to try to fix it. We know where we want to get to and what we want to do. It's definitely something that you don't want to go through, but we've got to turn it around as fast as possible," he continued. "We've got enough guys in here to win. We've proven that. We've got guys that can play. Guys have stepped up all year. Teams are going through the same schedule as us, so it's not that Rose being out. They've got guys out, too. Derrick's a big part of what we do, but we've still got enough guys in here to win games. If we lost every game with the injuries that we've had, then we would say that, but we've beaten good teams.

We can't wait for him to be back.

Thibodeau agreed that Roses ongoing 11-game absence the All-Star point guard could return in the Bulls next game isnt the reason for the teams slide.

To me, thats the convenient excuse. At this time of the year, you can say injuries. You can say condensed schedule. I dont know, what else is there? Back-to back, four in five, three in a row? The fact of the matter is we lost the last two games because of our mistakes. Not because of injuries. Not because of Derrick. Not because of any of that, he explained. The guys we have have shown we have more than enough to win with. We can fall back. But every team in the league is dealing with injuries and the same schedule. We have to have a determination that were going to get it done regardless of the what the circumstances are. The teams that succeed in this league find a way to win. And thats what we have to do.

Overall, however, theres no reason to push the panic button. After a 62-win regular season a year ago and having the leagues best record for the majority of this campaign, its easy to get spoiled, but the fact that people are up in arms about the Bulls simply losing two games in a row is a testament to just how good this team has been.

One could view Sundays embarrassing loss at Oklahoma City as especially concerning the fact that Thibodeau tinkered with his starting lineup (inserting Kyle Korver and bringing Ronnie Brewer off the bench to match up with Thunder sixth-man extraordinaire James Harden) was surprising, even considering the matchup, for the by-the-book coach and not giving a full effort against Houston was another mild shock, but in the course of an NBA season, things happen. To Brewer, the answer to the Bulls problems is simple.

We just have to get a sense of urgency. We've only got so many games left. Miami's right on our butt and if we don't start to play better, we're going to lose home court, so that's very important to us. You never want to lose a game, especially two, he said. We've just got to play better. We've been rebounding pretty well, but we're not making teams miss and the rebounding goes out of the window. That's one of the things that have made us successful all year long -- dominating the boards, getting stops and getting into our offense.

Not to take anything away from Houston, but the way we've been playing all year and last year, if we play our style of our basketball, play hard and cut down on all the mistakes, we're supposed to win games like this, so whenever you lose to a team you're capable of beating, it's always a little tough, Brewer, back in a reserve role with Rip Hamiltons return to the lineup, continued. We didn't play our best basketball against the Thunder, so you try to wipe that game out and come back Monday and try to play better, but unfortunately, we didn't.

Still, it isnt as if the Bulls are suddenly a middle-of-the-pack team, fighting for their playoff lives and with the rival Heat also enduring their own struggles and even the mighty Thunder dropping a game Tuesday night, its just that time of the year where title contenders especially those missing their best player might not look as dominant when matched up with squads in need of simply qualifying for the postseason. Brewer reasoned that losing two games shouldnt put people in a frenzy.

It's not the end of the world. We still have a lot of games left. I don't think we're going to have a demise and we're not going to make the playoffs. We need to continue to get better, continue to work on things and turn it around sooner than later, the backup swingman said. When you lose games, you can look at everything. You can say we didn't shoot a high percentage from the three, we gave up a high a field-goal percentage, you can say we missed free throws, you can say we didn't get defensive stops. You can point a lot of different things in a loss.

Everybody plays the same amount of games. Everybody's has back-to-back-to-backs, everybody's had back-to-backs, four in five nights, so to say the short season with a lot of games and guys are getting tired, to me, that's an excuse, Brewer went on to say. We play basketball. We get paid fairly well to do it, so you find a way to fight through and continue to play at your highest level. There's stretches where you don't play your best basketball -- you miss shots -- but effort should never be one of the things that is not there.

Morning Update: Dwyane Wade comes up clutch in close win vs. Kings

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AP

Morning Update: Dwyane Wade comes up clutch in close win vs. Kings

Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

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Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

It was a gift and the Bulls weren't going to look it in the mouth as Dwyane Wade was poised to finish off another one of his sterling defensive plays with a breakaway dunk with the game tied and Arron Afflalo and DeMarcus Cousins trailing.

Lightly touched by the small of his back by Cousins, Wade miscalculated his liftoff and missed the dunk but was bailed out by the refs for a foul with 14 seconds left.

Then, he bailed the Bulls out.

Wade had his fifth fourth-quarter defensive play, stripping Cousins on a steal on the ensuing possession with the Sacramento Kings having a chance to win, leading to a Michael Carter-Williams dunk and finishing a 102-99 win Saturday night at the United Center.

It was a clock-turning performance for Wade on both ends of the floor, even if his missed dunk is a reminder that he is 35 years old. 

"I took off too far as I look at the instant replay," Wade said. "I should've took maybe one more dribble. Can't say I felt 35, I just took off too far (laughs). But hey, sometimes you get calls, sometimes you don't. I'm a person who hasn't gotten a lot all year so I'm not gonna apologize for nothing."

Stripping Cousins on his spin move was the finale, but he swatted an Arron Afflalo corner triple in the fourth, smothered Ty Lawson at the rim twice for blocked shots to end the third and tortured Lawson again in the fourth for another steal that led to him following up a Jimmy Butler missed layup with a follow and foul.

"Just a read," said Wade on stripping Cousins. "We knew he was gonna go to DeMarcus at that point. Once we forced him left, I knew he had to come back to the right hand. And being in the right place at the right time, the ball was right there for me."

Wade played like a desperate and motivated man, putting up 30 with six rebounds and four assists on the second night of a back-to-back is proof positive he took Friday's loss to Atlanta personally and used his play to back up those feelings.

He took to twitter to apologize for the poor effort against the Hawks, producing his best all-around performance as a Bull.

"We've been good in desperate moments," Wade said. "We haven't been good in non-desperate moments, when we win three in a row or playing a team that we should beat. But (in) the desperate moments I like us."

He scored 13 in the fourth, along with the last of his four blocked shots and all three of his steals took place in the final 12.

"I thought he was terrific," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "He was aggressive all game long, taking the ball to the basket, getting to the line 15 times. He came up with two big plays."

Hoiberg threw out different lineups and rotations, playing Paul Zipser as a sixth man and having the second-round draft pick close the game. Zipser took advantage, hitting three triples and scoring 13 points.

"I thought it was night and day from last night," Hoiberg said. "Our energy was really good all night long. We got just enough stops to find a way to win."

Cousins dominated the game with 42 and 14 rebounds in 35 minutes, the only Kings player in double figures all night.

"He was pretty much unguardable for the majority of the game, Taj did a solid job on him," Hoiberg said. "When Robin was on him, they put him on the perimeter and let him shoot threes. He's a monster."

Back-to-back triples from Cousins gave him 40 and tied the game at 97, as a third one rimmed out with a little under two minutes left.

Cousins dominated the start of the third quarter, hitting midrange jumpers over Lopez and taunting the Bulls bench after hitting a jumper to put the Kings ahead, 70-63 midway through the third.

But the Bulls stayed close, with Hoiberg choosing to sit Rajon Rondo for the second half after playing him six minutes in the second quarter, using Wade as a point guard and going with Carter-Williams for defense, along with Zipser, who didn't look scared of the moment.

"I like the wrinkle coach put in there, putting him in early," Wade said. "He gave him an opportunity and he helped us big time."

Butler scored 23 with seven assists and five rebounds in 39 minutes, didn't have to play the hero for once and made fun of Wade's apology tweet.

"He was due for a big night," Butler said. "He can tweet again if he can come out again and give us 30 and some big steals and big dunks."

"I think that's what called of him, to score baskets and guard. It's kinda sneaky. You never really expect it until it happens."

It looked like the worst was over when the Bulls made a short run to end the third, surviving the onslaught from Cousins — and surviving their own experimenting with Zipser instead of going with Denzel Valentine, switching things up altogether.

But the tone was set by the leaders, who can only manufacture but so much urgency on a nightly basis.

"I like this team when we're desperate," Wade said. "A desperate team, we're not bad."