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Bulls flat in 89-82 setback to Hornets

By K.C. Johnson, Chicago Tribune –

CHICAGO—Tom Thibodeau’s relentless quest for the Chicago Bulls to be a 48-minute team disappeared in the first 84 seconds Saturday night against the New Orleans Hornets.

By then, the Bulls had committed three turnovers, missed a shot and pretty much looked like they left their offense in Cleveland, where they had been so dominant the night before.

By the time the last errant shot had been hoisted, the Bulls once again had failed to start 3-0, which they haven’t done since the 1996-97 season. They fell 89-82 to a Hornets team without Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon.

Greivis Vasquez’s 18 points led a balanced Hornets attack that also featured a double-double from Ryan Anderson, who started for the concussed Davis. Robin Lopez added 16 points and four blocks and Jason Smith added 16 points off the bench to highlight a physical effort from the Hornets’ front line.

“We got our asses kicked,” Joakim Noah said. “They outplayed us, were way more on edge than us.”

One night after shooting 63.8 percent, the Bulls plummeted to 33 percent, getting nothing from their starters other than Noah and Luol Deng, who scored a team-high 19 points. Carlos Boozer, Kirk Hinrich and Richard Hamilton combined to shoot 4-for-26 and all sat out the fourth quarter.

“I was just searching, trying to get some energy,” Thibodeau said. “I felt we were flat. The nights you’re not shooting well, there are many other things you can do well to help your team win. That’s the mindset I want us to have.”

Where was the United Center faithful to call them old — which Hamilton credited a Cavaliers fan saying to motivate him Friday — when you needed them?

If not for sparks off the bench from Marco Belinelli and Taj Gibson, the offensive display would have been even more offensive. Throw out their 21 fast-break points and 21 free throws, and the Bulls managed very little from half-court sets.

The Bulls came out flat, committing eight turnovers in the first quarter alone and repeatedly getting beat downcourt in transition. The Bulls had no excuses; the Hornets were finishing a back-to-back series as well.

“The start set the tone,” Thibodeau said. “We were back on our heels. Their big guys hurt us. The thing about the shooting, that doesn’t bother me. Obviously, you want to make more shots. But if you’re taking your shot and missing, you can live with that. What bothered me was our approach to defensive transition. When you’re not shooting well, you can’t allow that to sap your energy in terms of getting back, setting your defense. Our rebounding was poor. And we missed a lot of layups.”

Playing against his team of the last two seasons, Belinelli woke the slumbering offense with a dunk and 3-pointer. He scored eight first-quarter points in his best stretch as a Bull and later gave them their first lead midway through the second quarter with another 3-pointer.

But the Bulls closed the first half poorly, allowing Vasquez to sink back-to-back 3-pointers in the waning seconds to cap a 9-0 run.

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