NBA.com Daily Confidential

If the Chicago Bulls are going to make a playoff run, they are going to need to learn to put opponents away.

Chicago gets a good chance to do that Saturday when it hosts the team with the worst winning percentage in the NBA - the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Bulls (20-17) squandered an 18-point lead for the second time in a week Thursday to lose 86-83 to New Jersey. Nets guard Jason Kidd recorded his 82nd career triple-double and also stifled Bulls guard Ben Gordon, who scored 23 points but just three in the second half when he shot 1-for-5 from the field.

"When Jason is active like that he prevents Ben from catching the ball. He is one of the best who has ever played the game at doing that when he is locked in doing it," Bulls coach Scott Skiles said. "Other guys have to step up and do something. We tried to go to certain matchups, we had trouble driving by them and we missed our open shots."

Chicago, a preseason favorite to reach the NBA Finals, also failed to capitalize on an 18-point lead against the Nets on Jan. 5, losing that contest 91-86. The collapses have contributed to the team's five losses in the last six games - its worst stretch since starting the season 3-9.

"We haven't been able to close games out," Bulls guard Ben Gordon said. "(We) come out playing really well early, we haven't been able to maintain it. It is something we need to figure out if we want to win games."

The Bulls, who were outscored 51-34 in a woeful second half Thursday, hope a visit by the Grizzlies can help them solve those issues. The Bulls are 9-2 all-time against the Grizzlies at the United Center and have taken three of the last four overall meetings there, including a 111-82 rout on Jan. 7, 2006 -- the most recent matchup.

Gordon and fellow guard Kirk Hinrich, who had 19 points and 10 assists Thursday, combined for 47 points in that victory.

Hinrich appears to have regained his consistency in the last two games, totaling 52 total points and 19 assists. He had only 21 points in the previous three games combined.

The Grizzlies have allowed opponents to average 113.9 points over the last 13 games. On Friday, Memphis (9-28) suffered its third defeat in four games when it failed to overcome a 22-point second-quarter deficit and lost 116-110 to Minnesota.

"I think the key to the game was that we got into that funk in the first," Grizzlies interim coach Tony Barone said of the team's 19-point first quarter. "That hadn't happened to us yet."

Barone does have the team playing better, going 3-4 since he was appointed to the position on Dec. 30 after the firing of Mike Fratello.

After Barrone installed a more up-tempo offense, the Grizzlies are averaging 116.6 points over the last seven games, more than 20 better than their 94.5 mark in 30 games under Fratello.

The Grizzlies have struggled when playing games on back-to-back days, losing all 11 of the second contests.


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