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Bulls can't stay with Hawks in 103-88 loss

With 25 games left, the Bulls find themselves in a bunched up playoff race

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By Sam Smith | 2.27.2016 | 8:00 a.m.

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg Friday seemed pondering among disappointed, disgusted and dismayed over the Bulls mostly passionless and relatively uncompetitive 103-88 loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

The adjectives were about the only “D” that seemed to define a Bulls team that trailed since the opening minutes of the game.

“We took a step back today,” Hoiberg said.

If so, it likely was to allow a Hawks player to get inside for an offensive rebound, to step on the sideline for a turnover or to launch an off balance shot with little chance of succeeding.

“Focus one game at a time, get home and get ready for Portland (Saturday) and take it from there,” said Taj Gibson, who has emerged as the team’s most standout spokesman in times of despair. “I feel we have a strong shot; playing with a short deck now. Keep playing and maturing and scrapping out wins until everyone gets back healthy.

“The whole Eastern Conference is junked up now,” Gibson noted. “Everybody one or two loses out of home court advantage. So every game is coming to the wire; as I said, I like our chances. We just have to bounce back.”

The Bulls with their fifth straight road loss and third straight blowout loss to the Hawks this season after three straight wins and a nice post All-Star run fell to 30-27. They are tied with Charlotte for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, 1.5 games ahead of ninth place Detroit. Atlanta moved up to 32-27. It was the 12th straight game the Bulls gave up at least 100 points, a high that goes back to the mid-1980s.

Derrick Rose missed his second straight game with hamstring and knee problems and Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic remained out with no return for the latter two imminent. Rose is a game time decision Saturday. Joakim Noah is out for the season. So the Bulls are left wanting of personnel.

The larger issue Friday was the personnel who mostly competed so indifferently and ineffectively.

The Bulls shot 36.4 percent led by Doug McDermott with 20 points. McDermott seemed one of the few players hustling and aggressive as he even led the team in offensive rebounds in the first half. It seemed like after the Hawks busted off to a 20-11 start with 11 second chance points in the first quarter, McDermott threw himself at the boards as if to say, “Someone has to do it.”

Pau Gasol had 16 points and 17 rebounds, but shot six for 22 coming off the flu. Gibson was the only other Bull in double figures with 11 points. But the Bulls also committed 21 turnovers that led to 27 Atlanta points and couldn’t take advantage of a poor shooting Hawks team that was two of 20 on threes in the first half and seven of 34 overall.

“Right from the beginning they outmuscled us,” said Hoiberg. “They got the second chance opportunities pretty much every time down. We’d get an initial stop and couldn’t get the ball; the ball movement wasn’t good on the other end.”

Sure, but other than that?

“I don’t get it,” lamented Hoiberg “We had three good games, made a lot of progress. We had 21 (turnovers). That’s all we’ve talked about for two days, taking care of the basketball. We’d averaged just over 20 (turnovers) against this team. You don’t give yourself a chance to win when you have careless turnovers like that. They were the aggressors. We weren’t tough with the ball; they just outhorsed on the glass. That was the type of night it was for us.”

It can’t be all bad, however, with Hoiberg making up a new word. Though I suspect he was thinking of plenty others and had a different suffix in mind with horse.

So how about that McDermott dunk!

That should be about it for the Bulls summary as late in the second quarter Magic McDermott got a pass on the right wing (yes, they threw a few, but not too many) and with an open lane for a layup. Instead, Danger Dougie went up for yet another slam dunk and the Bulls actually were sort of in the game.

They trailed 48-42 and then 51-44 at halftime.

But you sensed it was a mirage watching them still unaware a box out involves leaning against someone else and that the other guys were allowed to get your passes if you were throwing them softly.

E’Twaun Moore, who was brilliant in the Wednesday win over Washington, drew two early fouls and never got much into the game after that. Tony Snell backed off and was two of eight with his drives pretty much all swatted away as the Hawks had 12 blocks. You always allow rookies the benefit, but Bobby Portis seems to have fallen too deeply in love with his jump shot. Despite his size and hustle, Portis rarely goes to the basket and pretty much settles for a jump shot as soon as he has the ball.

It’s not Portis’ fault. But it’s also why it’s dangerous to expect much of rookies. They are so ill-prepared in college that they often are baffled by the effort it takes to play in the NBA. Portis is an excellent prospect, but injuries and absences like the Bulls have cause them to ask too much of kids like that. And it leads to games like Friday’s.

Not that the starters provided great inspiration.

The Hawks finally made some threes after halftime and took a 72-54 lead just over six minutes into the third quarter. McDermott answered with a three and Aaron Brooks made a drive and a three. But with Moore’s foul trouble, Brooks had five turnovers and five assists as the team had 19 assists and 20 turnovers. That’s as good as any statistic picture of the game for the Bulls.

The Bulls had that last chance late in the third quarter trailing 73-65. Portis missed a three. The Hawks ran it down and Portis lost Thabo Sefolosha on a switch for a layup. Then Sefolosha dashed down the lane unimpeded for another layup as Portis and Gasol watched and then the Hawks ran it back at the Bulls one more time after a turnover to lead 79-67 after three quarters.

McDermott drove for a three-point play early in the fourth quarter. But the former Bull Sefolosha went over Portis for an offensive rebound on an Al Horford miss and then beat McDermott down the lane for a runner. And after two more Portis jumpers—one miss and a make from 18 feet—the Hawks eased ahead 85-72 with about eight minutes left and the Bulls would have to pretty much shut them out the rest of the way to win. And they don’t do much winning in Atlanta.

“We just didn’t get off to a great start. That’s on us,” said McDermott. “We have to be ready to play. (The Hawks) are a really good team that had three days rest, so we had to be ready. We have to hold down the fort while they’re (injured players) getting their treatments and hopefully we get them back soon.”

Perhaps Rose returns Saturday, though that’s uncertain. The Bulls face the highest scoring backcourt this side of Golden State with Damien Lillard and C.J. McCollum. They’re combining to average more than 46 points per game with Portland having won 11 of 13.

“Everyone is jockeying for position,” noted Gibson. “It’s coming down to the wire. We dropped the ball tonight; so our main focus now is getting one tomorrow. We’ve got to keep fighting and positive things (will) happen; no choice but to go out and leave it on the court. That’s (an Atlanta) team we (are) jockeying for position with and a team that gave us fits the last two games. We understand it was a letdown tonight. I feel we have more than enough to scrap out wins; just have to go out and play hard.”

And so it goes. Twenty-five left.

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