The Bulls saved their worst play for the last day of the year.
In a New Year’s Eve matinee, the Bulls looked like they were ready for a new start after a disheartening 91-81 loss to the Bobcats.
Not only had the Bobcats been outscored by 13 points per game during an 18-game losing streak, they had allowed a league-high 104.5 points per game for the season.
And the loss could have been worse, if the Bobcats hadn’t missed 17 free throws.
“Right now, we are not a 48-minute team,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I have to figure this out. I have to make us ready. We need an edge to start the game. We cannot ease our way into a game and say, ‘OK, we’re good, we’ll get ourselves corrected.’
“It doesn’t go like that.”
The Bulls pretty much played their way out of Monday’s game in the first quarter when they shot only 29 percent and fell behind by 10 points. They never led, although they did tie the game at 65 at the end of the third quarter.
“No excuses; we’ve got to play through it and play ourselves out of the funk,” said Taj Gibson, who scored eight points and had nine rebounds in 21 minutes. “We’re in a little bit of a funk right now, but we’ve just got to push through it.”
The “funk” would be the Christmas Day blowout loss to the Rockets and Monday’s game, split only by a Saturday victory over the NBA’s worst team, the Wizards.
“We could play better,” said Luol Deng, who led the Bulls with 20 points. “That’s easier said than done. We’ve been there before. We’ve just got to play hard. Just stay positive, keep playing together. Next game, we’ve just got to come out and play harder.”
The only time the Bulls looked like they played hard Monday was in the third quarter, which ended 65-65. But 4 minutes later, the deficit was back to 10 points, and the 21,986 fans at the United Center were getting restless.
And no wonder, given the Bobcats’ recent streak.
“What streak do you mean? One win in a row?” Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap asked. “When you go through an entire month without a win, it really eats at you.”
The Bobcats won without Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Eastern Conference rookie of the month for November, with an abrasion on his right cornea. He was one of only three NBA rookies to have started every game this season.
The Bulls shot 35.1 percent for the game and were outrebounded for the seventh time in nine games, 52-49. They also were whistled for 31 fouls, compared with 19 for the Bobcats.
But Thibodeau was most upset about the pace of the game being set early by the opposition. The Bulls had only one field goal in the first four and a half minutes.
“Everyone has jobs to do; my job is to make sure they’re ready,” Thibodeau said. “Right now, things aren’t going our way. We’ve got to make things go our way.”