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Bulls go cold, suffer first loss at hands of Hornets

Bulls forward Carlos Boozer shot 1-for-8 from field had only four points against Hornets. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

Bulls forward Carlos Boozer shot 1-for-8 from the field and had only four points against the Hornets. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

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Updated: December 5, 2012 6:50AM

The bully got punched back.

And make no mistake about it, this one hurt.

“It’s tough; I can’t sit here and lie to you,’’ point guard Nate Robinson said after the Bulls’ 89-82 loss Saturday against the New Orleans Hornets, who were supposed to be too young to be a threat and too naive to understand the physical play the Bulls thrive on.

But they handed the Bulls their first loss after taking the punishment and dishing it back twofold.

“We don’t get a lot of credit or notoriety for being physical, but that’s something we’ve prided ourselves on since I’ve been here, is to play a physical style of basketball, legally,’’ Hornets coach Monty Williams said.

“I don’t think we outworked them. The ball just came our way a few times. But it was a major battle in that paint. Anytime you play against a Chicago team that [Tom Thibodeau] is coaching, you know you’re going to play against a team that is going to hit you right in the mouth.’’

If the Bulls (2-1) had hit the Hornets in the mouth, it would’ve been one of their few shots that connected.

The efficient offensive machine on display in Cleveland on Friday looked completely broken.

In the victory over the Cavaliers, the Bulls shot .638 from the field. Twenty-four hours later, they shot 29-for-88 for a .330 shooting percentage, their lowest mark since they shot .330 against the Oklahoma City Thunder in a 92-78 loss last April.

The culprits were easy to find, as starters Carlos Boozer, Kirk Hinrich and Richard Hamilton combined to go 4-for-26 (.154) from the field. All three were on the bench in the fourth quarter.

But it wasn’t just the missed shots that bothered Thibodeau. It was the complaining to the officials on missed shots and failing to get back on defense that he pointed to as a big problem.

“The thing about the shooting is it doesn’t bother me if you’re taking your shot, missing your shot; you can live with that,’’ Thibodeau said. “The thing that 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.’’

That was on display at the start as New Orleans jumped out to a 6-0 lead and was really apparent during the last 1:45 of the first half, when the Bulls fell asleep with a 44-37 lead and let the Hornets close out the second quarter on a 9-0 run.

“It’s hard to shut off a faucet when things get tough, especially when you give them so much confidence,’’ forward Taj Gibson said. “It’s the third game of the season; we just have to regroup. Thibs just said it now: You got everybody telling you how good you are, everyone praising you, and you get knocked on your tail.

“That’s the one thing about this league: You can’t get comfortable at any time or in any game because there’s always somebody out there looking to knock you down.’’

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