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Bulls routed by Hawks, suffer worst loss on heels of best win

Louis Williams throws down slam against Kirk Hinrich as Bulls lay an egg road. | Todd Kirkland~AP

Louis Williams throws down a slam against Kirk Hinrich as the Bulls lay an egg on the road. | Todd Kirkland~AP

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Updated: January 24, 2013 6:48AM

ATLANTA — It usually comes as a simple gesture from Tom Thibodeau.

A head nod and a shout. Obviously, loud enough that it can be heard from way down on the bench.

It’s Vlad-Rad Time.

The problem is, when Vladimir Radmanovic gets playing time, it means something went really well for the Bulls or terribly wrong.

It was the latter Saturday night. One day after what was arguably the Bulls’ most impressive victory of the season against the New York Knicks, Thibodeau watched his team play its worst game in a 92-75 loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

“If you’re tired, look at Atlanta. They played [Friday night], too,’’ Thibodeau said when asked about the letdown factor. “It’s a will game.’’

The Bulls (15-11) didn’t seem to be able to stand toe-to-toe in the battle.

“It was a letdown because we lost,’’ Joakim Noah said. “We got our [bleeps] kicked. Tough loss. The highs and lows in this thing are unbelievable, man. One night you feel great because you won a big game, and then the next night you come out with the wrong mind-set and you lose the game. Tough, but we just got to move on and be ready for Christmas.’’

They definitely didn’t look like a team that was ready for Saturday.

Even while jumping out to a 21-17 first-quarter lead and holding the Hawks (16-9) to 36 percent shooting, the Bulls seemed to lack energy, especially for a team that limped in from New York. Kirk Hinrich was battling soreness in his left knee, and Luol Deng — fresh off an injured left shoulder suffered against the Knicks — admittedly didn’t have his usual aggressiveness.

“It’s OK. I played, so that’s all that matters,’’ Deng said of the injury. “I was worried about it, even to start the game, and it took a little bit of my aggressiveness away, even with rebounding. I was a little shy of contact, but you know, it’s not worse than it was before.’’

When asked about the exact ­nature of his injury, Deng didn’t have any answers. It happened when the Knicks’ Jason Kidd tried to steal the ball and pulled down on Deng’s arm.

“I’m not even trying to hide anything. I can’t explain what it is,’’ Deng said. “It’s more than a stinger, it’s a sprained something, somehow, but I don’t know exactly.’’

Deng shot 5-for-14 in scoring 11 points, pulled down only two rebounds and played just under 34 minutes, which spoke volumes that he wasn’t physically right.

The Hawks were led by Al Horford’s 20 points, and all five starters scored in double figures.

“Our energy was bad, I feel like we settled for too many shots early in the clock,’’ Noah said. “Sometimes when you’re tired, you just got to move the ball. We just let them play to their strengths, as well.’’

Thibodeau was a bit more detailed about the mishaps.

“Guys got going, and once they get going, they’re hard to shut off,’’ Thibodeau said. “We got beat in ­every facet.’’

A letdown game? Likely. Not that Radmanovic was complaining.

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