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Bulls ‘swagger-less’ as Bobcats snap 18-game losing streak with 91-81 win

Bulls forward Carlos Boozer applies defensive pressure against Charlotte center Brendan Haywood second half Chicago Bulls 91-81 loss Charlotte Bobcats

Bulls forward Carlos Boozer applies defensive pressure against Charlotte center Brendan Haywood in the second half of the Chicago Bulls 91-81 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats Monday December 31, 2012 at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 31, 2012 11:02PM

Heads down, no smiling, church-like quietness.

In the words of Taj Gibson, that is what a “swagger-less’’ locker room looks and sounds like.

Then again, allowing a team to end an 18-game losing streak on your own home court? That’s about the time swagger turns to embarrassment.

“Right now you can look around in this locker room and see it in everyone’s face,’’ Gibson said after the Bulls lost to Charlotte 91-81 on Monday afternoon at the United Center. “There’s that look of letdown, and you can see the heads are hanging.

“Even though our record is still above .500 (16-13), our record should be way better than what it is now. We’ve given away a lot of games that we’ve should have won. It comes down to our will. It’s time to push ourselves and get back to winning. Get that swag back.’’

That won’t happen playing the way the Bulls did Monday.

The Bulls were out-rebounded for a fourth consecutive game, played without Kirk Hinrich (multiple injuries) and Joakim Noah battled flu-like symptoms. The team lacked energy and emotion.

The Bulls have seemed emotionless ever since their dramatic win in New York against the Knicks 11 days ago. Since then, they’ve looked like a team going through the motions.

“We’re not a 48-minute team,’’ head coach Tom Thibodeau said. “For some reason, and I’ve got to figure this out, I have to have us ready at the start of the game; we have to have an edge at the start of the game. We can’t ease our way into the game and say, ‘We’re good, we’ll get it corrected.’ It doesn’t work like that.’’

Falling behind 28-18 to a Charlotte team that had last won a game Nov. 24 wasn’t what Thibodeau envisioned. But neither was getting blown out by Atlanta and Houston before winning an ugly game against Washington over the last week.

The Bulls looked like they gained control of the game in the second and third quarters, out-scoring the Bobcats 47-37 during that span. But Charlotte (8-23) leaned on the speed of their guards to push the intensity of the game in the fourth, and the Bulls had no answer.

Guards Kemba Walker (18 points), Gerald Henderson, as well as reserves Ramon Sessions and Ben Gordon, kept the Bulls on their heels throughout the fourth quarter, attacking the rim off the break. Henderson finished with 16 points, while Sessions and Gordon each had 15.

“Their speed and quickness, to me that’s one of their strengths,’’ Thibodeau said of the Bobcats. “If you don’t have floor balance you’re going to have problems.’’

The Bulls were led by 20 points from Luol Deng, while Carlos Boozer chipped in 19 points and 14 rebounds, but that meant very little for a team that has lost three of its last four games.

“You got to always keep that inner-child, man,’’ guard Nate Robinson said. “To me that’s the biggest gift you can have. Playing basketball, always having that feeling like you played with when you was a kid, playing with no worries.

“As long as we play hard it will all take care of itself. Tough times never last, tough people do, and I think we’re a tough group.

“We’ll get it back.’’

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