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Nets 97, Bulls 85: Worst game of the year for the Bulls

New Jersey Nets forward Shelden Williams (33) blocks shot by Chicago Bulls point guard C.J. Watsduring first half an NBA

New Jersey Nets forward Shelden Williams (33) blocks a shot by Chicago Bulls point guard C.J. Watson during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

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Updated: March 20, 2012 8:27AM

That was a heartwarming gesture by the Bulls. Just in case Derrick Rose was beginning to feel as if he wasn’t needed, his teammates showed him just how much they miss him.

The Bulls allowed Deron Williams and Kris Humphries to dominate them while sending a desperate message to their reigning MVP on the bench: Help us.

File the Bulls’ 97-85 loss Saturday against the Nets in the same category as blowout defeats against Atlanta and Memphis. The only difference being the Hawks and Grizzlies are respectable teams, while the Nets entered the game on an eight-game losing streak in which they lost by an average of 10 points.

So chalk this up as the Bulls’ worst performance of the season.

“I’m not going to concede that,” Carlos Boozer said when asked if every team stinks it up once in a while. “We bring it every night. We’ve got a no-excuse policy. We just played like [expletive].”

Efforts such as this demand perspective, which was thankfully at hand after the Bulls’ starters lacked energy in the first and third quarters. This was the Bulls’ 33rd game, marking the halfway point of the season. Saturday’s effort aside, there can be no complaining. Had someone told you Rose would miss 10 games because of injuries and Rip Hamilton would more than double that number, you wouldn’t have expected the Bulls to re-establish themselves as one of the East’s elite teams.

Had you known Joakim Noah would start slowly, Boozer would continue to be a target for criticism and Taj Gibson and C.J. Watson would miss at least seven games because of injuries, few would’ve predicted the Bulls to be in prime position to nail down homecourt advantage in the playoffs.

Perhaps most promising of all, in a season in which lackluster performances have been rampant, the Bulls have kept DOA efforts to a minimum.

“At the halfway mark, I’m happy with where we are, but I’m definitely not satisfied,” Boozer said. “Everybody in this room would say that.”

One of the keys to the second half is the Bulls not allowing themselves to be jumped early in the game like they’ve done to so many other teams. The Nets ran out to a 22-3 lead and never looked back. The Bulls cut the deficit to seven late in the first half only to allow the Nets to go on another run bridging the second and third quarters.

Williams had 29 points, and Humphries added 24 points and 18 rebounds for the Nets. Mike James and Boozer each had 16 points.

“People say the NBA is the last five minutes,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “No, it’s not. Study the statistics, and they’re going to tell you most teams in the league that lead after the first quarter win. Readiness to play is huge.”

The Bulls have been ready more often than not. They weren’t ready this time, though. Getting Rose back will help. That could happen Monday.

“We had a bad day,” Luol Deng said. “We’re not denying that. We’ve got no excuses. We played terrible, but it’s over with.”

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