Bulls try to rebound at home in clash with Hawks

981921.png

Bulls try to rebound at home in clash with Hawks

The Bulls are searching desperately to get back on track inside the United Center, where they've lost two of their last three, as they take on Josh Smith and the Atlanta Hawks on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins at 6:30 with Bulls Pregame Live, hosted by Mark Schanowski and Kendall Gill.

Of all the potential downfalls the Bulls could have suffered without Derrick Rose, wins at home likely were near the bottom of that list. But after going 62-12 at the United Center the past two seasons, the Bulls have almost matched that loss total through 35 games in 2012-'13, managing a 10-10 record in Chicago. That also includes losses in two of the last three home contests, which, before this season, had never occurred in Tom Thibodeau's tenure. But that stretch has happened four times already, and the Bulls will need to reclaim their homecourt advantage as the season nears the halfway point.

It doesn't get easier, however, as one of the surprises of the Eastern Conference makes their way to the Madhouse on Madison tonight. The Hawks made one of the major moves of this past offseason, sending All-Star Joe Johnson and the remainder of his max contract to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Jordan Farmar, Johan Petro, Anthony Morrow, Jordan Williams, DeShawn Stevenson and a future first-round pick. In essence, it was a salary dump -- Johnson was due nearly 90 million over the next four seasons -- that didn't send back much talent for Atlanta to work with for the upcoming season. But in the weak East (and their awful Southeast Division) the Hawks have managed to jump out to a 21-15 record and sit in the No. 5 seed in the conference. Eight of those wins have come against the Wizards, Bobcats and Magic, teams with a combined 22-78 record, though they do have wins over Oklahoma City and Memphis.

Another one of those wins, however, came against the Bulls on Dec. 22, when Al Horford's 20 points and 10 rebounds paced the Hawks in a 92-75 victory in Chicago. The Bulls were without Rip Hamilton, but the offense suffered its second worst outing of the year as Luol Deng's 11 points led Chicago, which shot 42 percent and went to the free throw line just eight times. Carlos Boozer managed eight points and four rebounds in the loss, but the Hawks should see a different power forward tonight.

Boozer has been stellar through the Bulls recent woes, averaging 22.7 points and 10.2 rebounds in six games since the calendar flipped to 2013. He's connecting on better than 54 percent of his field goal attempts in that span after making 46 percent through 25 games. He'll need to be at his best once again against Horford and Smith.

Tonight also marks the second return to Chicago for sharpshooter Kyle Korver, who is in the midst of his best season in eight years. He's averaging 2.6 3-pointers a game, helping to fill the void left by Johnson, off the bench, and scored a reserve-best 13 points in December's matchup with the Bulls. Newcomers Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson have taken the majority of the outside shooting with Korver out of the lineup. The Bulls still rank last in the league at 4.6 3-pointers per game, but have improved to 10th in 3-point percentage (35.8).

The Bulls have lost two of three at home (and overall), while Atlanta stumbles into the United Center having lost five of its last six. One team will get back on track with a big win that may hold playoff seeding implications by season's end, so tune into Comcast SportsNet to catch all of tonight's action.

Dwyane Wade tweets apology to fans after Bulls' lopsided loss in Atlanta

Dwyane Wade tweets apology to fans after Bulls' lopsided loss in Atlanta

For the opening three quarters in Atlanta, the Bulls were off. 

So off, in fact, that Dwyane Wade tweeted an apology to Chicago fans after the game. 

Thanks to a furious run by the Bulls' bench, the final score ended at a respectable 102-93. In reality, though, the Hawks dominated. 

Wade and company trailed by 29 points at half and 30 at the end of three. The 35-year-old shooting guard finished with a minus-18 and just four points while All-Star starter Jimmy Butler posted a team-low minus-22.

The Bulls will look to shake off their lopsided loss against the Sacramento Kings on Saturday. 

 

Fred Hoiberg after Bulls' embarrassing loss to Hawks: 'We're gonna look at everything'

Fred Hoiberg after Bulls' embarrassing loss to Hawks: 'We're gonna look at everything'

The bus was warm before the game started, as the Bulls looked like they wanted no parts of the Atlanta Hawks.

It was evident from the jump that playing with a full and healthy squad for one of the few times this season wasn't enough to arouse their competitive juices, as they put together arguably their worst 48-minute showing in a 102-93 loss at Philips Arena, dropping them to 21-23 in a game they trailed by as many as 34 points.

The practices have apparently been the sterling jewel of effort and competitiveness for the Bulls but it hasn't carried over through the season as the inconsistency continues to be maddening — one that seems to go beyond the "growing pains" mantra that's been fed by all involved so far this year.

"It could be things but I don't want to share it with the media," a sunglasses-clad Dwyane Wade said outside the locker room, in a rare mood of not being elaborative following a loss.

It appears even the professional's professional has gotten a bit more frustrated than usual — understandable considering the way the starters came out with a lack of energy, with more turnovers (eight) than field goals (six) in the first quarter.

"Continue to try to lead behind the scenes," Wade said. "Can't stop when it's bad, when it's good. You gotta be the same."

Fred Hoiberg, fed up with the starters, ran with the reserves for the fourth quarter and outscored the Hawks by nearly 25 points, bringing the lead to 95-90 with a minute left before a Dennis Schroeder jumper restored order with 52.6 seconds left.

Four Hawks scored in double figures led by Schroeder's 25 points and six assists and Paul Millsap scoring 14 while making all four of his shots in just 22 minutes of run.

[MORE BULLS: Dwyane Wade not buying into the Bosh to Bulls speculation]

Perhaps it's the Hawks being the same kryptonite to the Bulls that the Bulls are to the Toronto Raptors — except the Bulls simply frustrate the Raptors, not embarrass them.

"I have been, we have been, tired of this. I gotta come out better," said Jimmy Butler, who led the Bulls with 19 points in 29 minutes. "I gotta play better from the jump, 48 minutes. That's not the way we're supposed to play. 

"The way we practice is not the way we play in the game. Don't ask me why, I don't know. Starting with me and going down the line, we gotta be better as a whole. Otherwise we'll keep getting our asses beat and it's bad."

The Hawks shot over 60 percent for most of the night until the game devolved into what amounted to a pickup game late. After all, the Hawks seemed to be battling boredom by half, leading 65-36 and shooting 68 percent from the field and hitting 67 percent from three.

"We're gonna look at everything and we'll see how we go out and start tomorrow and a couple days after that, hopefully we figure some things out," Hoiberg said. "They shot over 70 percent in the first quarter and you dig yourselves a hole and it's impossible to get out."

Hoiberg said he would evaluate everything leading into Saturday's game at home against the Sacramento Kings, but Friday didn't seem to present any realistic lineup changes based on performance.

Bobby Portis scored 10 with seven rebounds off the bench, with Jerian Grant scoring 12 and Paul Zipser 10. Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic combined to shoot two for nine, so one wonders where Hoiberg can go.

"I don't know. Practice is good. Practice is great," Butler said. "Practice is not gonna win you games. We gotta take what we do in practice and take it over to the game."

The Bulls weren't about to make it any more suspenseful than it had to be, as they started off missing their first 11 3-pointers, often missing multiple open looks on the same possession.

It wasn't relegated to just shooting as the Bulls squandered easy opportunities in easy situations, like Denzel Valentine turning a three-on-one fast break into an airballed finger-roll attempt that he caught himself — a violation, of course.

"I don't know, I can't put a word on it. Because it's just talk," Butler said. "Doesn't matter what you say, if we don't go out there and do it, what the hell is talking gonna do? We've been up and down all year. If we don't guard and turn the ball over, games get out of hand very quickly."

This one was over a few minutes into it, as the Bulls looked like a lifeless squad with no direction and very little fight, short of a minor dustup between Dwight Howard and Robin Lopez in the third quarter.

At that point, though, all Howard had to do is point at the scoreboard, where a 30-point lead did all the necessary talking.

The Bulls trailed by 20 even before Tim Hardaway Jr. hit a 35-footer to end the first quarter, sending the Hawks off on a high and seemingly demoralizing the Bulls.

Even Butler's 19-point night, hitting six of his eight shots in 29 minutes, rang hollow. The Bulls could've trotted out a D-League team for the second half to gear up for Saturday's game against Sacramento and been better off than how they performed Friday night.

And for the Bulls, they can't simply just go back to the drawing board. There looks to be something fundamentally wrong with this bunch — either that, or the Atlanta night got the best of them Thursday.