Bulls stunned by Bobcats on New Year's Eve

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Bulls stunned by Bobcats on New Year's Eve

On the bright side, the Bulls (16-13) can regard Mondays 91-81 loss to the Bobcats (8-23) at the United Center as a thing of the past, something to be forgotten when the ball drops at midnight. But in the here and now, it was a defeat at the hands of one of the NBAs worst teams, losers of 18 straight games when they arrived in Chicago and even without the services of starting point guard Kirk Hinrich, thats the type stain that doesnt just wash away in the laundry.

A sluggish start put the Bulls in an hole in the early going, as the young Bobcats played with energy to make up for any perceived talent disparity, similar to the way the Wizards made it competitive in the hosts last outing. Beginning contests slowly isnt something new for the Bulls, but surprisingly, they didnt bounce back immediately against the downtrodden visitors, who built a double-digit lead.

Behind balanced scoring and superior rebounding, the Bobcats controlled the games pace against the poor-shooting Bulls, who struggled to scoreRip Hamilton (11 points), in his second game back from injury, was effective before picking up two quick foulslet alone defend up to their usual standards. Despite determined, if inefficient, play from forwards Luol Deng (20 points, 12 rebounds) and Carlos Boozer (19 points, 14 rebounds), after a quarter of play, the home team trailed, 28-18, much to the dismay of the matinee-going audience.

When things didnt change early in the second quarter, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau went with a rarely-used all-reserve lineup, though the backup Bobcats backcourt of Ramon Sessions (15 points) and former Bulls sixth-man extraordinaire Ben Gordon (15 points) wreaked havoc with their scoring ability. The burden fell upon Taj Gibson (eight points, nine rebounds) and Marco Belinelli to deliver and they helped the second unit make the Bulls deficit more manageable.

Gibsons energy on both ends, the solid interior play of backup center Nazr Mohammedin the game early for starter Joakim Noah for the second straight game, but not due to foul trouble this time aroundand poised minutes from rookie point guard Marquis Teague helped the Bulls stay within striking distance as the period waned on. Still, at the intermission, the Bulls were behind, 47-42.

After the break, Charlotte went on a 6-0 run to make it a double-digit affair again, prompting a Thibodeau timeout to restore order. While that didnt happen immediately, the Bulls, who, with the exception of Boozer, were mostly unable to score proficiently against their guests set defensewhile Nate Robinson (seven assists), starting in place of the sidelined Hinrich, made a concerted effort to get others involved, his strength is being a scoring point guard for the more offensively-challenged benchpushed the pace and manufactured scoring opportunities in transition.

Toward the end of the third quarter, the Bulls finally made more of an inroads and though they occasionally impeded their own progress with shaky free-throw shooting and inattentive defensive rebounding, the contest morphed into a close-knit affair late in the period. Propelled by the wing duo of Hamilton and Deng, the Bulls headed into the final stanza with the game knotted up at 65 apiece.

Charlotte upped the ante at the outset of the fourth quarter, this time going on a 10-0 run to create separation from the listless hosts, whose fans made their displeasure felt. The likes of Gordon, undersized big men Bismack Biyombo (11 rebounds) and Jeff Adrien (nine points, 10 rebounds) and the starting backcourt of Kemba Walker (18 points) and Gerald Henderson (16 points) were all part of the cast of characters that helped stake the Bobcats to a comfortable lead, as the Bulls struggled with ball-security issues, rebounding deficiency, lack of defensive intensity and overall malaise, made evident by Thibodeaus myriad substitutions, in search of an all-encompassing answer.

Despite implementing different lineups and the players on the court ratcheting up their collective sense of urgency, shots simply wouldnt drop and the defense couldnt get key stops against the Bobcats, as the Bulls once again faced a double-digit deficit, but with the game entering the stretch run, there wasnt enough time for a miraculous comeback run, even if they somehow managed to build the momentum. Incredibly, things got even worse as time ran out on the hosts, who were in the penalty and forced to send their guests to the foul line in an effort to stop the clock, but the damage had already been done early and the only positive that can be taken from the whole sordid affair is that perhaps things will be different in 2013.

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Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Grab the first goal.

The Blackhawks have scored the game's first goal in seven of the last eight games, and of those seven, they've won six of them. Meanwhile, the Lightning have scored the first goal only 17 times in 48 games this season, and are 12-5-1 in those games. They're 9-17-4 when they allow the first goal, so getting out to a lead first will be important against a struggling Lightning team looking for signs of life.

2. Will the floodgates open for Jonathan Toews?

After a four-point game in a 4-2 win over Vancouver, the Blackhawks captain matched his point total over his previous nine games. He's up to 26 points on the season, which is now fifth among Chicago forwards. When Toews has offensive droughts, they usually last longer than they should. But when he gets hot, he gets extremely hot. Perhaps we'll see the floodgates open offensively.

3. A chance for the team lead in scoring.

With an empty-net goal on Sunday, Marian Hossa tied Artem Anisimov for the team-lead with 18 goals. Artemi Panarin is right behind with 17, and Patrick Kane isn't far either at 15. The Blackhawks had four 20-goal scorers last season, and haven't had more than that since the 2013-14 season. They're definitely on pace to hit four, but could they surprass that? Richard Panik, who scored another goal Sunday as well, is fifth with 11 goals while Ryan Hartman has 10. Toews is at eight, but a flurry after a drought could make things interesting.

4. The triplets reunited?

In an effort to jumpstart a struggling offense, Lightning coach Jon Cooper reunited the triplets line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat that was so successful during their 2015 playoff run in their latest game, a 5-3 loss to Arizona. It's unclear whether they will begin tonight's game on the same line, but if not, it's worth watching throughout the game whether they do. The Blackhawks have been coming at opponents in waves lately, so Cooper could look to separate the three to distribute the scoring.

5. Take advantage on special teams.

The Lightning have racked up the fifth-most penalty minutes in the league, and own a bottom-10 penalty kill unit at 80.1 percent. The Blackhawks are the second-least penalized team, and have converted on 17.9 percent of their power plays, which sits at 16th. But they haven't scored one on the man advantage in five straight games, going 0-for-9 during that span. Here's a chance to change that.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

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