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Bulls drop 3rd straight with 93-89 loss to Rockets

By Fred Mitchell, Chicago Tribune –

HOUSTON — The Bulls lost three games in a row during the regular season for the first time in the Tom Thibodeau era as turnovers and poor late-game execution led to a 93-89 loss to the Rockets at the Toyota Center Wednesday night.

James Harden led all scorers with 28 points as the Bulls fell below the .500 mark at 5-6.

Nate Robinson scored 21 points for the Bulls, but his pass intended for Luol Deng with 20.7 seconds went out of bounds and proved costly. Deng wound up with 19 points. The Bulls were just 2-for-16 on 3-pointers and committed 14 turnovers. The sloppy contest saw a combined 37 turnovers.

The Bulls had not lost three in a row since Feb. 27-March 19, 2010, when they went on to drop 10 straight.

Afterward, Thibodeau indicated changes are on the way regarding the starting lineup.

“There are a lot of things that go into winning and you have to do things the right way,” he said. “We have to be able to do that for 48 minutes.

“We can’t pick and choose. We have to be tied together the entire time. We have to be aware. We have to be alert. We have to make multiple effort. We have to stay on body. You can’t do the easy thing. We have to do the tough thing.”

Joakim Noah said he does not see how a lineup change necessarily would be beneficial.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I just think we have to trust each other a little bit more on the court. Everybody is trying and we just have to play together a little bit more. We’ve been a team that is always good at executing down the stretch. We’re not in the right positions. It’s frustrating.”

The Bulls held a 46-42 halftime lead as Noah scored all 11 of his points. For the game, the Bulls shot 40 percent from the field (38 of 95). Carlos Boozer had 13 points and 15 rebounds.

Houston got 20 points from Patrick Patterson and 18 from Chandler Parsons. Former Bulls center Omer Asik had four points, six rebounds and three blocked shots, including one on Noah in the final seconds that helped seal the victory.

The Bulls weren’t themselves at the start of this five-game trip, losing two of their first three and playing poor defense.

This had been one of the NBA’s top defensive teams in recent years under Thibodeau, allowing 89.9 points per game while holding opponents to 42.6 percent shooting.

Consequently, Thibodeau was left to ponder the defensive regression before the game.

Following previous road losses to the Trail Blazers and Clippers, Thibodeau predictably wanted his team to focus solely on Wednesday’s task at hand.

“I want us to learn from each game, but I don’t want us looking backward. I don’t want us looking ahead,” Thibodeau said. “I just want us to focus on exactly what’s in front of us and do the right things. Each day we want to improve. I think we understand what we have to do to win, and hopefully we can move in that direction.”

Even if Derrick Rose were healthy and in the lineup, the Bulls’ overall personality is defined by its defensive tenacity and hustle.

“(What) has hurt us has been turning the ball over, particularly when you do so on the road,” Thibodeau said. “You put the (other) team on the open floor, and now you’ve given easy baskets up. We want teams to go against our set defense.”

Veteran guard Kirk Hinrich has been struggling to find his shot and direct the offense efficiently. He made 2 of 5 shots Wednesday night, with six assists and four turnovers.

“A lot of times I think it is just a little bit of indecision,” Hinrich said after Wednesday morning’s shootaround. “Sometimes lack of execution. … We’re going to play hard and not think about it too much. Just go out there, be aggressive and play.

“I am confident the percentages are going to come back around.”

Boozer, who entered Wednesday night’s game averaging 13.3 points and 8.3 rebounds, said the entire team needs to reduce the number of turnovers.

“We have a lot of things to improve on, and that’s one of them,” Boozer said. “We’re still flowing, we have the same personality of being a defensive-minded team, a tough team, a rebounding team. We never give up. From that perspective, our identity is the same.”

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