If the Kobe Bryant rumors are partially to blame for the Chicago Bulls' dismal start, back-to-back games at the Staples Center aren't likely to help team morale.
Chicago (1-6) visits the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday looking to snap out of its early-season slump and earn its first road win.
The floundering Bulls began a six-game road trip, which occurs annually when the circus comes to the United Center, with a 112-102 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Thursday. The loss dropped them to 5-48 on the trip since Michael Jordan left the team in 1998.
The Bulls will be playing on back-to-back nights at the Staples Center, facing the Clippers (5-3) on Saturday and the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday. It will be another difficult reminder of the trade rumors involving Chicago and Bryant, which have been blamed as part of the reason for the Bulls' poor start.
In a 30-point loss at home against Toronto on Nov. 10, Chicago fans continued to chant Bryant's name even though general manager John Paxson declared the trade talk dead.
"I'm pretty sure for what it seemed it looked like it kind of affected the guys, but I'm not sure," Toronto's T.J. Ford said of the chants.
Chicago needs something to spark some life into an offense that is averaging just 88.7 points - third-worst in the league. The Bulls rallied from 14 down on Thursday against the Suns to take the lead in the final quarter, but Phoenix took command down the stretch and finished with 37 points in the fourth.
"I thought we played hard, but toward the end of the game and throughout the game we made some bad decisions," said Ben Gordon, who had 24 points. "We've just got to shore some things up."
Chicago fell to 0-3 on the road, and could use more production from Ben Wallace. The struggling center has a total of 17 points and 17 rebounds in three road games, but that's better than his totals of nine points and 22 boards in four home games.
"There were stretches for longer time periods where we played a little bit higher-quality basketball, that's for sure," coach Scott Skiles said, "but we're not in this to do that. We're in this to try to win the game."
Skiles adjusted his lineup, starting Andres Nocioni in place of Tyrus Thomas. Nocioni, who started 31 of the 53 games he played in last season, responded with 18 points and seven rebounds.
The Bulls lost 97-91 to the Clippers at home on Nov. 6 and have dropped 13 of the last 15 games between the teams, including six of the last seven games on the road. Cuttino Mobley scored a season-high 33 points as Los Angeles limited Chicago to less than 36 percent shooting.
The Clippers are trying to rebound out of their recent slump. They have lost three of their last four after a 4-0 start, including a 122-105 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Friday.
Tim Thomas led Los Angeles with 25 points while Corey Maggette and Chris Kaman added double-doubles. The Clippers, however, surrendered their highest point total of the season, were outrebounded 52-43 and were outscored in the paint, 64-18.
"We got beasted on the boards," Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. "They just came at us in waves, and our guys just didn't handle it."
Mobley had 16 points off the bench Friday for the Clippers, who are 3-1 at home.
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