A rigorous schedule and inconsistent play plagued the Chicago Bulls heading into the All-Star break. A few days off and a matchup with the Atlanta Hawks could be just what they need to get back on track.

The Bulls seek their 10th straight win over the Hawks on Tuesday night when the teams meet at the United Center.

Few teams had as challenging a schedule as the Bulls (29-25) leading up to the All-Star break.

They spent nearly two weeks on the road, losing four of seven on a West Coast trip that concluded Feb. 11 at Phoenix. The Bulls returned home and suffered a one-point loss to Toronto last Tuesday before a snowstorm in Chicago delayed their arrival in Charlotte until early in the morning Wednesday.

Forward Luol Deng didn't want to use fatigue as an excuse, but the Bulls clearly weren't sharp in a 100-85 loss to the last-place Bobcats. Chicago trailed the entire second half and by as many as 18 points while shooting 38.4 percent from the field.

"We didn't play with a lot of energy," Deng said. "Maybe the trip, being away for two weeks, and then coming here and playing. I'm not going to use that as an excuse. We tried to find it out there, but our defense wasn't where it should be. Our defense was terrible."

Ben Gordon scored 20 points and Deng added 19 and nine rebounds for the Bulls, who have lost two straight and five of their last six.

"It was definitely an embarrassing effort and an embarrassing loss," Bulls coach Scott Skiles said. "It was just like last night. We started slow, we hung in there for a while but they just wore us down and we didn't get anything going."

Chicago has been a strong defensive team most of this season, but that hasn't been the case lately. The Bulls have allowed 100 points or more in five of their last six games, including a season high-tying 123 in an overtime loss at Golden State on Feb. 9.

Deng believes the time off will benefit the Bulls.

"We are an energy team so the break is really going to be good for us," he said. "When we come back we have to realize that we need to play with a lot of energy like we have done before."

Playing the Hawks should also serve Chicago well. The Bulls have won the first two meetings between the teams this season and nine in a row overall since a 116-101 loss on April 9, 2004.

This will be the fifth straight road game for Atlanta (21-31), which has won three of the first four and six of seven away from home.

All-Star Joe Johnson scored six of his 27 points in the final 19 seconds Wednesday as the Hawks overcame a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit in a 96-93 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.

"I thought we focused in the fourth quarter," Johnson said. "Throughout this whole year, we have been bogged down with injuries and haven't had just one fit lineup. So it's been tough on us with our chemistry part, but we have started to come together later in the season."

Swingman Josh Smith continued an effective stretch Wednesday with 19 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks. He is averaging 20.5 points, 8.3 boards and 3.5 blocks over his last six games.


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