Bulls' comeback bid falls short, drop second-straight to Blazers

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Bulls' comeback bid falls short, drop second-straight to Blazers

PORTLAND If once is anomaly, is twice the start of a trend? For the second straight game, the Bulls (5-5) were given a taste of their own medicine and while Sundays 102-94 loss to the Trail Blazers (5-5) at the Rose Garden wasnt the blowout defeat the team suffered Saturday in Los Angeles, the lack of urgency, especially against an inexperienced young squad with inferior talent hints at deeper issues.

After an embarrassing loss the previous evening, the Bulls were locked in at the outset of the contest, as both Joakim Noah (16 points, 15 rebounds, eight assists) and Rip Hamilton (15 points) had their mid-range games clicking early on, helping the visitors build a slim cushion.

For the hosts, LaMarcus Aldridge (18 points, 13 rebounds)a former Bulls draft pick, though he was traded for the eventually-jettisoned Tyrus Thomasjustified his All-Star status early with his combination of finesse and interior play, while fellow big man J.J. Hicksons high activity level also made an impact and star rookie Damian Lillard (16 points) showed flashes of his tremendous ability.

However, the Bulls were focused on both strong defense and getting quality shotsthey shot nearly 62 percent from the floor in the opening quarterand with Noah displaying his all-around game as a scorer, passer and rebounder, not to mention a balanced effort that saw seven of the eight players who received playing time get on the board, the Blazers found themselves on their heels. After a period of play, the Bulls led, 30-23.

Portland started the second quarter with a 6-0 run to quickly narrow the gap, prompting a Bulls timeout, though not much changed afterwards, as they reverted to their ways from the night before, as ball security once again was an issue. So was point production, as the guests experienced one of their periodic offensive droughts, with the second unit, aside from backup point guard Nate Robinson (18 points), and the Blazers capitalized with Aldridges continued domination, as well as contributions from swingman Wesley Matthews (21 points), to overtake their opponents.

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau eventually reinserted his regulars, with the exception of reserve swingman Jimmy Butler, but the turnover issues and inefficient offense persisted, allowing Portland to gain some separation.

Having lost all momentum and simply being out of sync on both ends, at the intermission, the Bulls trailed, 51-43, following a last-second layup by Lillard before the halftime buzzer.

Typically, the Bulls, whether instantaneously or in a more gradual process, adjust their mindset and overall approach during the break, coming back with a more focused effort, regardless of the results. That didnt occur in the third quarter, as they continually permitted the Blazers open looks, settled for contested jumpers and perhaps most disturbingly, didnt display the hustle thats defined this team during Thibodeaus tenure, particularly in defensive transition.

Swingman Nicolas Batum (21 points) took over the hot hand for Portland in the period, knocking down a trio of shots from long range, while Lillard, an early-season Rookie of the Year candidate, resumed his consistent play.

As the period waned on, however, the Bulls managed to trim the deficit behind Hamilton, Noah and later, energetic subs Butler and Taj Gibson (11 points), who had been struggling as of late, and heading into the final stanza, the visitors were behind by a more manageable 73-68 score.

Gibsons energetic play carried over to the fourth quarter and sparked by his hustle and toughness, as well as solid play from Noah and Luol Deng (14 points, seven rebounds), the Bulls knotted up the contest early in the period. But Portland countered with an 8-0 run to acquire some breathing rooman extended 12-2 spurt gave the hosts a double-digit edgeto make the contest a continued uphill battle for its guests.

Down the stretch, Robinson was the Bulls offensive catalyst, but as admirable as the effort of the diminutive scorer was, the visitors simply couldnt get over the hump, with the Blazers seemingly getting to every key loose ball and rising to the occasion late.

To put a nail in the Bulls coffin, Matthews, Butlers college teammate at Marquette took it upon himself with an array of jumpers and hustle plays to cement the home teams victory and while their guests, led by Robinson, would make an inspired last-gasp comeback in the games final minute, it was too little, too late.

Wonky streaks, good fortune over Cavs on the line for Bulls

Wonky streaks, good fortune over Cavs on the line for Bulls

No matter the metric or the occasion, the only thing definitive about the Bulls over the last two seasons has been their mystifying dominance over the Cleveland Cavaliers in head-to-head matchups.

That, and their fascinating streak of consecutive wins while playing at home on TNT, a streak that could end at 19 games Thursday night when the two teams with varying objectives clash at the United Center.

The Cavaliers are searching to find themselves, along with a light switch that will perhaps alert them to a lost defense over the past several weeks that has been worst in the league since the All-Star break.

The Bulls are searching for consistency, but since it’s probably a little too late in the season for that, they’ll settle for a playoff spot with eight games left.

They’ll take two straight wins for the first time in a month, if they can get it.

They’ll extend a goofy streak, if that’s what things will come down to.

“The big thing is obviously you have to execute very well against this Cleveland team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “You have to go out there with great urgency, great energy. I anticipate them coming in and playing with a ton of energy tomorrow. We’re going to have to match that. We’re going to have to come out and play physical basketball.”

Having a big break between games this late in the season is a rarity, as the Bulls have been off since Sunday evening, but it’s just another weird detail in this weird Bulls experience.

An experience that the mild-mannered Hoiberg has to experience from his couch some nights, such as watching the Miami Heat furiously steal a game in Detroit at the buzzer with a Hasaan Whiteside tip-in to extend a lead over his team to a game, followed by another win Wednesday to put more distance between the two teams.

“I did, actually,” said Hoiberg with a smirk when asked if he’s scoreboard watching and paying attention to the teams ahead of the Bulls in the playoff race.

After being prompted to give his raw emotions when Whiteside’s tip-in occurred, he slipped right back to Robo-Hoiberg—although one can imagine how animated he must’ve been while looking to catch a break from a previous contender for the eighth spot in the Pistons.

“It is what it is,” Hoiberg said. “You have to go out and worry about yourselves at this time of year. It was a great finish for Miami, obviously, the way that game ended. But there’s nothing you can do about that. You’ve got to worry about yourselves and hopefully go out and execute.”

Going 6-1 against the Cavaliers in his two seasons as Bulls coach is probably the biggest feather in his cap, including three wins in all three meetings this go round.

The rhyme or reason doesn’t seem explainable, but Nikola Mirotic seemed to give a few keys to the Bulls’ success over LeBron James’ Cavaliers: Sharing the ball, controlling the glass and getting back on defense.

“Against big teams, we play much better,” Mirotic said. “I don’t know why is the reason for that. We need to find a way to play against everybody like that. It’s on us. We just have to prove it.”

Usually, those tenets seem to work against most teams, not just the supremely talented champions who’ve just lost a grip on first place in the conference.

But their inconsistencies have left the Bulls here with a handful of games left before the April 12th finale.

A win over Cleveland could mean everything, or nothing at all, or something in between.

“Sure, we understand,” Mirotic said. “We’ve been in a very similar situation last year. We didn’t make the playoffs so this year we want to try to make that push. I think we have a good schedule for the last. Very important game tomorrow, huge one. I think we have played very well against Cleveland until now. We have a chance. We need to get out there and play with energy.” 

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