Bulls Struggle in 2nd Half, Fall to Pistons

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By K.C. Johnson, Chicago Tribune reporter

December 8, 2013

Another day, another injury.

That’s the way things seem to be going — again — for this season’s Bulls, who are short-handed so often they seem numb to it.

Speaking of numb: On a Saturday night Luol Deng skipped with a sore left Achilles, the Bulls sleepwalked through a 92-75 loss to the Pistons. It marked Detroit’s first regular-season victory at the United Center since Feb. 24, 2006, 14 losses in Chicago ago.

The Bulls posted season lows in points and shooting, checking in at a frigid 33.3 percent to make the local weather not feel lonely. So much for building on any momentum generated by Thursday’s victory over the Heat.

“We sucked,” Joakim Noah said. “We’ll be better next game.”

That’s no guarantee in a disjointed season where Derrick Rose already had season-ending right knee surgery, Jimmy Butler missed his ninth straight game with turf toe and Mike James remains out.

“It was choppy,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We changed the starting lineup and that changed the second unit. And I thought we were just getting into a pretty good rhythm.”

That doesn’t sound like Thibodeau’s patented “we have more than enough to win.”

The Bulls were tied 47-47 at halftime but delivered a third quarter that proved painful to watch. They missed 16 of 20 shots and committed seven turnovers. Back-to-back 3-pointers from Josh Harrellson and Brandon Jennings revved the Pistons’ engines. Josh Smith added another from beyond the arc to cap a 13-1 run.

In a problem area all season, the Pistons sank 12 of 19 from 3-point land for an opponent-season-high 63.2 percent.

Offensively, the Bulls were just as brutal. Noah and Kirk Hinrich didn’t score until the fourth quarter. Carlos Boozer scored 11 points in the opening 5 minutes, 37 seconds but didn’t score again until the fourth.

Worse, after Boozer and Taj Gibson combined to score the Bulls’ first 17 points, the Bulls settled for jumpers in the third quarter.

“They were getting down into the post and being aggressive with their digs,” Thibodeau said. “Sometimes I thought we held onto it too much.”

Jennings’ 33 points led the Pistons, who outrebounded the Bulls 51-44.

In a nod to the Pistons’ big, athletic frontline, Gibson started at small forward for the first time in his career and led the Bulls with 21 points and 10 rebounds. He has scored 18 or more points in five straight games for the first time in his career.

The Bulls certainly could have used Deng, who finally succumbed to an injury he said he first suffered in the Nov. 27 victory at Detroit. Deng had scored 20 or more points in six straight games for the first time in his 10-year career, averaging 26.2 in that span.

“I tried to go,” Deng said. “We didn’t make the decision until early in shootaround. Last game, I wasn’t sure before the game. I tweaked it a little bit in the second quarter last game and it flared up on me. I still have a lot of swelling.”

And the Bulls have a lot of inconsistency.

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