Whenever the Bulls get back as a close-to-full squad, games like Saturday’s hard-played loss to the Portland Trail Blazers won’t haunt them as much as the other giveaways they’ve participated in through the first 58 contests.
They fought adversity, fatigue and bouts of ineffectiveness, and while having their share of opportunities late, they couldn’t get enough done in the fourth quarter of a 103-95 loss at the United Center.
Being without Derrick Rose in addition to Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic, the margin for error was already thin, and they knew it coming in.
“First and foremost you wanna make sure you’re competing and scrapping,” Mike Dunleavy said. “If that doesn’t happen it makes it worse. But once you get to a certain level of losing, there’s a major disappointment.”
Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg was obviously disappointed at some of the mistakes that led to the loss, but there’s only so much he can do with what he has at the moment.
“I thought our guys competed and battled tonight and played the right way,” he said. “It showed with our movement with the assists and open shots. Defensively we couldn’t get back in the game, we just couldn’t get that big one (stop) when we needed it.”
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In some ways it looked a lot like Friday’s loss to the Hawks, but the Bulls woke up late to have a shot at things.
Pau Gasol’s triple-double led them with 20 points, 16 rebounds and 14 assists, but even he had trouble with Blazers center Mason Plumlee, who stymied Gasol on a few drives to the basket.
As the Bulls clawed back, they were sent back by an attribute they lack — athletic shot-blocking in the form of Blazers forward Ed Davis.
When the Bulls attacked the basket, Davis was sending everything back in the Bulls’ faces, with five blocked shots, and the Blazers thwarted two attempts at the rim that could’ve cut the lead to four with under two minutes left.
“Their confidence is high,” Taj Gibson said. “They’re playing shorthanded as well, but they’re playing the right kind of basketball. Everybody wants to win, everybody means well. We have a lot of injuries, but we have enough to win. We have to shorten our mistakes.”
One player who had no such misfortune at the rim or otherwise was Blazers guard Damian Lillard, who has taken the NBA on his own personal revenge tour since not being selected for the All-Star Game despite statistics that look familiar to Derrick Rose’s 2010-11 MVP campaign.
Lillard shut down an early run with a three-point play midway through the fourth, scoring as soon as he re-entered the game. He scored 31 points on 12-for-26 shooting.
“He’s tough. He can shoot it, can drive it, he’s pretty shaky,” Dunleavy said. “The big thing was taking away those 3s, and we did tonight.”
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The Bulls’ inability to handle Lillard was offset by making sure Lillard’s high-scoring backcourt mate C.J. McCollum couldn’t get going, as he missed 11 of his 12 shots, and they limited the Blazers to just 5-for-21 shooting from behind the 3-point line.
After missing his first eight shots, E’Twaun Moore joined the party to hit seven in a row in the third, waking up to score 15 of his 19 in the period. Doug McDermott scored 18 for his best five-game stretch of his career, with double figures in all of them.
“He and Pau have really developed a nice chemistry,” Hoiberg said. “Pau is such a great passer, and Doug can cut and move. Having Mike out there with Doug helps him a lot.”
But by then, the Blazers had their own party going, moving the ball around fluidly and taking a 15-point lead. It was then where the Bulls finally woke up and injected some energy into the building.
Gasol achieved his first triple-double as a Bull midway in the quarter, McDermott continued his surge, and all of a sudden after his corner 3 to end the third, they were within six.
But their early hole and inability to take advantage of the few opportunities presented to them led to their second straight loss, as they’ve slipped to eighth place in the East, just two games over .500.