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Bulls lose game and another player

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By Sam Smith | 11.22.2014 | 2:20 a.m. CT

As John Winger famously said in the movie Stripes, “And then depression set in.”

Hey, you don’t get great literary references for a November game.

But like seeing his girlfriend walk out the door to close a terrible, horrible, no good very bad day, the Bulls Friday in losing 105-87 to the Portland Trail Blazers began to see this road trip that started so promisingly with a win in Los Angeles slamming the door in their faces.

“I can’t say too many positives about tonight,” shrugged Joakim Noah.

That’s because it was yet another Bulls player being helped from the floor and out of the game, this time Taj Gibson with a severely sprained ankle, leaving the locker room in a walking boot and crutches. He joined Derrick Rose (hamstring), Pau Gasol (calf) and Kirk Hinrich (rib) in the doctor’s office as the other three didn’t suit up for Friday’s game. Gibson left in the third quarter just after Mike Dunleavy barely avoided ejection for a flagrant foul against Damian Lillard, and oh, by the way, the Bulls were on their way to a 28-point third quarter deficit.

Yes, just nine more fun filled days left on the road.

“It was hard game for us,” said Nikola Mirotic, “especially back to back and they really started strong. Maybe we didn’t start strong, but the good thing, we fight and the second quarter recover in the game. What we need to do is try to stay positive. I really worry of the injury of Taj. I know we need all the players, especially Pau and Derrick; same thing we need to be ready sometimes to play without them.”

Perhaps the only real positive to emerge from the game in which the Bulls trailed 18-3 after about five minutes was the play of the European rookie, who was terrific with career highs of 24 points and 11 rebounds. Mirotic made four three pointers, got to the free throw line, where he was six of eight, and was the game’s leading rebounder as he cleared the defensive boards for the Bulls.

He sealed Portland defenders, taking passes over the top for scores, rebounded and ran full court and was fouled for two free throws and finished strong on a drive when the Bulls made their only run of the game, getting within 41-37 midway through the second quarter behind Mirotic and some clever guard play from E’Twaun Moore in for Hinrich.

It was just 45-39 Portland with 5:06 in the second when the Trail Blazers brought starters back but Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau rode the reserves who got the Bulls back into the game. But Lillard with a team high 21 points made two quick threes to ignite the Trail Blazers on a 14-0 run toward a 61-43 halftime lead. Portland jumped on the Bulls’ starters to open the second half with a 9-2 run for a 70-45 lead and it was pretty much time to reopen the umbrellas in rainy Portland.

But not before a little bit of Bulls frustration leaked out with Noah down like Joe Frazier during a Portland sequence with four consecutive offensive rebounds. It would look a bit worse than it really was, though would end with Mike Dunleavy the villain for the night and being booed when he had the ball the little the starters remained in.

Seeing Noah down, Dunleavy went to intentionally foul Lillard, who went into his shooting motion. Not being the most athletic of players, Dunleavy couldn’t adjust quickly and appeared to push down Lillard while he was in the air. Lillard afterward called the move cheap, though Dunleavy isn’t known for that sort of play and admitted he felt badly.

“Nice kid,” said Dunleavy. “I got nothing against him. It was totally unintentional in terms of trying to hurt or injure. Jo went down and it looked like he got hit pretty hard. So I was going to take an intentional foul. Lillard went up to shoot and it was one of those things where I got put in an awkward situation. He was in a shooting motion and at that point, I had to foul him hard or else. I didn’t want to give up a four-point play. At that point, what do you do? I’m not going to go for his legs or head. I just kind of go through his body, didn’t want him to make a three.”

There was some pushing and shoving between Aaron Brooks and Wesley Matthews. Dunleavy drew a flagrant foul, which would turn into a five-point play for Portland, and the worst was to come for the Bulls.

A few minutes later, Gibson, who’d been limited some this season from an ankle sprain on opening night, sprained the same ankle again when he made a move and appeared to step on the foot of Matthews. Gibson went down hard, rolling around in agony. With time called, the entire Bulls team went to his side at the other end of the court. Gibson was carried off by teammates for an X-ray. It was negative, but there are ramifications. This is the third time starting in last season’s playoffs Gibson said he sprained the same ankle and now is determined to give it extra time to heal. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he didn’t play the rest of the trip. And he was starting with Gasol out with a sore calf.

“The same lingering injury,” said an obviously annoyed Gibson. “I keep trying to play through it. Try and be there for my teammates. Pushed through a whole summer of trying to rehab the same ankle and it just keeps flaring up. I just keep having these little bum ankle turns, and I just took some time off and tried to rush back and this thing happened again. I’m just frustrated.

“Just talking to Derrick, talking to the guys, I have to be patient,” Gibson said. “I have to stop trying to run back out there and try to play through these things. The dog in me wants to be out there and play. I have to learn from this. I just have to be smart. I have to really get it strong because it hurts my athleticism, not being able to do certain things. It takes a lot to have me sit out. I just don’t want the same thing to keep happening.

“I felt great in training camp and it just flared up on me again,” said Gibson. “Real painful right now. I gotta wear a boot and I gotta wear crutches. Doctor’s orders. Just got to get this thing calmed down, gotta get back to trusting the doctors and doing it the right way instead of just saying, ‘Patch me up, Coach,’ and throwing me out there. I have to be smarter. Can’t sprint to the finish line. We’ve got a long fight. Just gotta be smart and get back fully healthy.’’

The Bulls do get the weekend off before Monday’s game in Utah. Gasol has indicated he’s close to returning, but it may not make sense to come back for a back to back set with Tuesday in Denver. Similarly for Hinrich or Rose.

The Bulls Friday started Aaron Brooks for Hinrich, and Brooks was the only starter to score in double figures with 12 points, though he was loose with the ball as Moore seemed to settle the team.

“Just wanted to step in play hard and contribute any way I could and help run the team,” said Moore, who had nine points in his first scoring of the season. “I played all right for my first game. The more you play the more you feel the game and better you play.”

Nazr Mohammed and Cameron Bairstow also scored their first points of the season—one each-—as Thibodeau went deep into his big man rotation with Mirotic standing out.

“It sucks, guys get hurt,” said Noah, who had seven points and two rebounds while the team's leading scorer Jimmy Butler had nine points on three of 13 shooting. “You’ve just got to keep going forward; the games keep coming and nobody feels sorry for you. So you’ve just got to keep going and hopefully Taj and those guys will get better soon. Niko was definitely a positive for us. He competed hard and is somebody who is a difference maker on the offensive end. He can score the ball, he can shoot, can pass. He’s getting better every day. That’s good for us.”

Doug McDermott continued to struggle with his shot, missing all four threes, though he did make some strong driving moves for six points and seven rebounds. And Tony Snell had nine points in 31 minutes and shot three of four with a three.

But there wasn’t much to say beyond the surfeit of injuries and again here in Portland where Rose suffered his torn meniscus almost a year ago to the day.

“It’s not the building, any of that stuff,” grumped Thibodeau. “Injuries are just part of the game, deal with it.”

For Winger, it was his job, his apartment, his car and his girlfriend. All lost.

But at least he had his health.

Which is more than the Bulls can say.

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