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Bulls’ defense stuck in troublesome triple-digit mode

Chicago Bulls v PortlTrail Blazers

Chicago Bulls v Portland Trail Blazers

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Updated: December 21, 2012 6:25AM

HOUSTON — There are numbers that Tom Thibodeau is not used to seeing from his teams.

Make that numbers that the Bulls coach doesn’t accept.

Since he took the helm before the 2010-11 season, only four times have the Bulls lost back-to-back regular-season games in which they allowed at least 100 points. Heck, they’ve dropped back-to-back games only six times under Thibodeau in all.

The latest?

The Bulls are staring at it, with the Clippers scoring 101 in their 21-point blowout on Saturday, and then the Portland Trail Blazers dropping 102 on them in the loss on Sunday.

It’s not sitting well.

“The defense, the intensity, we’ve got to get that part right,’’ Thibodeau said.

Easy to say. As the Bulls are finding out, however, it’s like a reoccurring nightmare when the second unit comes into the game. That’s why Thibodeau is searching for a mix that can get it done.

“Our defense is not where it used to be — it’s not where it should be,’’ forward Luol Deng said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve got different lineups, and we’ve got to learn how to play together. Just the simple stuff, making each other better. Knowing what our strengths are and sticking with that.

“We’ve got to learn how to put stops together. I don’t like comparing teams, but that’s what we did well last year. The second unit came in and got stops in a row. That’s what we’ve got to get back to.’’

In Thibodeau’s first season, the Bulls finished second in the league in points allowed with 91.3 per game and held the opposition to a .430 field-goal percentage. Last year, they were first in the league, allowing 88.2 points and a .421 shooting percentage.

They will enter the game on Wednesday against the Houston Rockets ninth, allowing 94.2 points per game and a more comfortable .440 shooting percentage.

Deng isn’t the only one pointing the finger at the new-look “Bench Mob.’’

Taj Gibson is the one holdover from that group, and admittedly he’s seeing the problems when it takes the court, especially in the second quarter.

“We’ve just got to play harder,’’ Gibson said. “Even if we can’t score, we’ve got to fall back on our defense. That’s the thing about the bench last year, even if we didn’t score, we made sure the other unit didn’t score on us. That’s one of the things we have to adjust to.’’

Asked about specific problems the group is having, Gibson said, “Sometimes miscommunication. Other times, guys are fighting hard and they just make a tough shot. We have to realize the matchups and realize what we have to pick the poison with.’’

The bigger problem for the Bulls is that they can’t make roster changes to fix the problem. They are a hard-cap team, forced to build most of the bench with scrap-heap players that were financially beneficial to sign.

Marco Belinelli has never been known for his defense. Neither has Nate Robinson. They are both serviceable, but the Bulls have a standard.

“We made a name for ourselves,’’ Deng said of the defensive reputation. “Teams are going to come ­after us, and we have to understand that.’’

The Bulls were able to battle back in the fourth quarter against the Trail Blazers to tie the game with just under 11 minutes left, and Thibodeau felt as if he was on to something with the mix of Kirk Hinrich, Jimmy Butler, Gibson, Deng and Joakim Noah. Tut that group also loses some offense with Richard Hamilton and Carlos Boozer on the bench, and with Hinrich in a scoring rut.

“We’ve got to get that part down,’’ Thibodeau added. “We’re not going to win on the road with the approach that we have.’’

The Bulls never have lost three consecutive regular-season games under Thibodeau. That streak is about to be tested in Houston.

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