No cutting down these Nets in Bulls 105-102 loss

Here’s a quiz: Describe this kind of loss.

It’s when the opponent comes in 1-12 on the road on the second of a back to back after losing badly to lowly Minnesota, their fifth straight loss to give them the third poorest record in the NBA. And you’re after an off day when your team had what everyone said was a spirited morning shootaround after clearing the air about issues and committing yourselves to one another with intense internal discussions.

“It’s,” said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, “a bad, bad loss.”

That would be the Bulls’ Monday 105-102 loss to the Brooklyn Nets.

It was the Bulls’ third straight loss after four consecutive wins, dropping the skidding Bulls to 15-11 and in a tie for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls got 24 points from Jimmy Butler after his comments questioning coach Fred Hoiberg Saturday and then team and player and coach meetings which seemed like it would be a motivating factor.

Pau Gasol added 20 points and nine rebounds and Taj Gibson had 10 points and nine rebounds. But the Bulls took a blow late in the third quarter when Joakim Noah suffered what looked like a worrisome shoulder injury. Noah said X-rays were negative, but he would be taking an MRI Tuesday after he “heard a pop.” He left the Bulls locker room seemingly in reasonably good spirits, but wearing a sling and saying he was in pain.

“Defensively, we had no togetherness at all,” lamented Hoiberg. “We had no toughness. When we finally did get some stops, they would get the rebound. They had 15 offensive rebounds (51-45 overall margin and 16 second chance points). They were shooting over 50 percent most of the game.”

It’s a Bulls team in some respects at an early crossroads in a more competitive Eastern Conference.

“We didn’t guard, we didn’t rebound, we never got back in this game,” said Butler. “The only way we are going to win basketball games is if we come together as a team and stay together. Through the good times and bad. We’ve got that group of guys. We’re talented enough. We just have to buy into it.”

The latest bump followed questioning comments Butler made following Saturday’s loss in New York which he amended Monday as more from frustration. Butler insisted they were less criticism than motivation. Everyone seemed satisfied about something to spur the team after the crushing four-overtime loss to the Detroit Pistons. Hoiberg changed the starting lineup again, the sixth different one with Nikola Mirotic at small forward for Tony Snell, who did not play for the first time this season. Mirotic was energetic with three steals, but three of nine shooting.

Rookie Bobby Portis went into the rotation, but had an uneven 14 minutes, firing up nine shots. He was three of nine for six points. Noah had eight points and eight assists in just 16 minutes, and his loss would be, as Derrick Rose said, “devastating.” Rose was three of 11 for eight points with five assists and three turnovers.

It was not an unfamiliar Bulls game against a second tier opponent, an uncertain start even with the enthusiasm from the morning workout. The Nets, however, looked like the team the Bulls wanted to be with a 29-22 first quarter lead, moving the ball quickly side to side for open shots. Though the statistics looked bad, the Nets did make numerous tough shots. Brook Lopez led with 21 points and 12 rebounds. They shot 53 percent through the first three quarters.

The Bulls got a kick start to open the second quarter with Doug McDermott back from a minor knee issue in New York with a pair of threes and Gasol running out for a basket on a long pass from Noah. It looked at times like the Bulls players wanted this one too badly after the events of the last few days, seemingly aiming wide open shots. Still, the Bulls had a season best 32 assists in the game on 43 baskets, which would usually be plenty to win.

“Offensively we were fine,” said Hoiberg. “It had nothing to do with that end. We missed a lot of (easy baskets) in that third quarter. I thought we had a great morning (at the shootaround). I thought the attention was about as good as it’s been in the shootaround all year long. But it obviously didn’t carry over on the defensive end on the floor. We couldn’t string together three or four stops in a row and get the momentum of that game.”

It didn’t look bad trailing 58-55 at halftime, but then the Bulls hit that brutal third quarter drought missing, 14 consecutive shots over a five-minute span after Gasol had brought the Bulls within 70-69 with back to back jumpers.

The Nets then led 85-78 after three quarters and stretched it to 94-84 with 8:19 left before the Bulls did their taking-the-bad-team-seriously thing. They got within 99-95 with 3:15 left on a Butler 20 footer, close enough to steal one from a poor team. And they did get the stops, three of four Nets misses. But Gasol threw away an ill-advised long baseline bounce pass for a turnover and Rose dribbled into a double team and was stripped. It proved just enough for the Nets to escape with the victory. They are 8-20.

“What was missing tonight is what has been missing for a lot of the games, a sense of urgency,” said Gasol in a familiar commentary. “We cruise for most of the game and then when we have our backs against the wall we turn it up, and try to give ourselves a chance and then it’s too late. Then teams are in rhythm and confident and you lose games like this one. It’s something we have to correct. Good teams come in and guys compete; when we have OK or not so good teams the energy, attitude, approach are totally different

“We have to take responsibility, have to take it personally,” said Gasol. “This has to hurt. If it doesn’t hurt, we may have a problem that is not correctable. Regardless of anything else, we have to bring a certain level of competitiveness, energy, attitude, desire, determination to the games that a team that has won one game on the road and now two and played yesterday and obviously we are tired with the back to back, but we have to do a better job especially at home. If we don’t do that we’ll become an average team.

“I think every player should feel some level of pain and frustration about the situation with losses like this,” said Gasol. “You (should) come in the next game, can’t wait to be on the floor and compete and kick somebody’s butt; if that’s not the case you have the core problem or personnel problem.”

It is the season of giving gifts, though this isn’t exactly what the Bulls had in mind. The Bulls next game is against the Thunder as part of the NBA’s big Christmas Day special. There weren’t many Merry Christmases and Happy Holidays heard around the locker room.

“The biggest thing was we help and we wouldn’t be there for the next guy,” said Hoiberg. “We were good at that for a while. The last couple of games we’ve gotten away from it. We’ll get back to it tomorrow and hopefully make improvements. If not, it could get ugly at Oklahoma City on Christmas.”