Keys to the Game: Bulls vs. Trail Blazers (01.01.18)
The Chicago Bulls began December with three straight losses.
The Bulls will begin the new year hoping to bounce back from just their third loss in their past 13 games when they host the Portland Trail Blazers Monday night at the United Center in Chicago.
Chicago heads into Monday coming off a disappointing 114-110 loss to the Washington Wizards on Sunday. Before not being able to finish off the Wizards in the final minute, the Bulls had matched the Golden State Warriors for the league's best record over the past month.
Despite seeing their three-game winning streak snapped against the Wizards, the Bulls (13-23) take plenty of optimism into 2018. In addition to their recent turnaround, Chicago can look forward to January when Zach LaVine is expected to return from a torn ACL.
Yet, even as the Bulls looked forward to LaVine making his season debut, they overcame a tough stretch. They followed up a 10-game losing streak with a string of seven consecutive victories sparked by Nikola Mirotic and Kris Dunn.
Of late, Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg has seen his team play through in-game adversity more effectively than earlier this season when Chicago started 3-20.
Through the ups and downs, Hoiberg has managed to remain steady and kept his team focused solely on what it can control.
"That's to compete and play hard and have the focus every day to put yourself in position to win games," Hoiberg told reporters on Sunday. "I've said this all along: I give our guys all the credit in the world for continuing to battle through the tough stretch when we lost 10 games in a row.
"They continued to come in with the mindset that they're going to get better and learn and hopefully find a way to close out some of the games that we had been losing."
That will continue to be the goal in the new year, starting when the Bulls play for the third time in four days.
Portland (18-17) may be without star point Damian Lillard for a fifth straight game due to a strained right hamstring. Lillard is listed as questionable in the team's injury report after working out Friday in practice and before Saturday's 104-89 loss at Atlanta.
Without Lillard again, the Blazers saw their two-game winning streak snapped on Saturday, when second-half cold shooting did them in. Portland shot 1-for-12 from 3-point range in the second half and committed 20 turnovers.
"It's a disappointing loss," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "In the end, we didn't make enough plays to win the game. It's certainly frustrating to lose that game the way that we lost it."
Shabazz Napier started for Lillard for the third straight game and scored 21 points and likely would start again if Lillard does not play.
Portland has experienced a bit of a roller coaster ride this season, but Stotts said his young players need to learn from experiences like Saturday when the Trail Blazers didn't make enough happen to finish off what began as a solid performance.
"We've got to be able to seize the moment when it's there," Stotts said. "We've got to make the plays (in the fourth quarter) that puts us not only in a position to win the game, but actually win the game."
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