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New Year’s Eve loss closes out brutal 2013 for Bulls

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Updated: December 31, 2013 10:34PM



Forget about just flipping the calendar for the Bulls.

Grab it off the wall, find a match and burn 2013.

Burn everything about it: Derrick Rose lost for the season with an injured right knee, a training room full of bodies since training camp started and an enigmatic offense that can look efficient, as it did in Memphis on Monday night, then put together a showing like the one on New Year’s Eve at the United Center.

All of the good feelings coming into the game with the Toronto Raptors disappeared in abysmal fashion in an 85-79 loss on a 30-for-82 (36.6 percent) shooting night. That included a fourth quarter in which the Bulls (12-18) shot just 16.7 percent (4-for-24).

To make matters worse, they were finally at full strength — or as full strength as the Bulls will be for the rest of the season without Rose.

All-Star forward Luol Deng returned to the starting lineup after missing five consecutive games with a sore left Achilles tendon and finished with 16 points, though he shot just 6-for-15, including 2-for-7 in the fourth quarter.

“I feel all right,’’ Deng said of his 33 minutes. ‘‘I’ve got to get back in the gym, get my timing and rhythm back a little bit. I’m on limited minutes, probably will be for a while until I get fully healthy again.’’

While he admitted his game still needs work, Deng had a message for his teammates.

‘‘We keep saying it will come,’’ he said. ‘‘We’ve got to get going. I think guys are healthy now. Just keep working hard, but we’ve got to get going now. There’s been a lot of up and down this year. It’s still a long season, but we’ve got to get our rhythm right and get going.’’

That wasn’t a problem through the first three quarters, with the Bulls taking a 62-57 lead into the fourth.

But the bottom fell out quickly. The Bulls were outscored 15-4 to start the fourth. Coach Tom Thibodeau called a timeout to try to fix the problem. He didn’t get the results he was hoping for, as his players responded with six scoreless possessions.

Meanwhile, the Raptors were a bit more efficient, stretching the lead to 78-66. Deng finally stopped the bleeding, getting to the free-throw line and making both shots to cut it to 10 with 4:26 left. A minute later, he cut it to eight with a layup.

The Bulls couldn’t get over the hump, though, and poor shooting was a huge reason why.

‘‘I actually thought it was the end of the third, start of the fourth,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘That’s what got us. It was actually when we broke the lineup.

‘‘The problem, too, that we have is when guys miss a lot of time [with injuries] and come back, the timing is off. The fourth quarter has to be your best quarter. It’s different. It requires intensity. And we have to finish stronger.’’

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com



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