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Loss to Cavaliers punctuates Bulls’ 1-5 circus trip

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Updated: November 30, 2013 11:53PM



CLEVELAND — Mike Dunleavy was looking for words to sum up the 1-5 circus trip.

He settled on just one: “Weird.’’

A terrible record, three bad losses in winnable games, no Jimmy Butler because of a turf-toe issue and the loss of star point guard Derrick Rose for the season after he injured his right knee, “weird’’ was one way to look at it.

There were so many others. Deflating, organizational-changing, a nightmare.

“Obviously we’re a different team than we were before we left,’’ the veteran said after the Bulls lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers 97-93 at the Quicken Loans Arena on Saturday night. “I mean, without Derrick and Jimmy … it’s just tough. Three games that were really winnable, but that’s the way the league is. Instead of coming out with a winning record, you find yourself 1-5.

“Just circle the wagons, get home and get some wins at home. I think we’ll be OK, but definitely kind of a weird last week-and-a-half, weird trip.’’

That included Luol Deng having a chance to tie the game with 11.9 seconds left, but watching his runner roll over the rim. No problem. Standing there for the put-back was Joakim Noah, who not once, but twice missed what appeared to be a bunny. That’s OK, Carlos Boozer can play hero, as he gave the Bulls a fourth chance to tie. When his put-back missed and rolled off the rim into the arms of Tristan Thompson it was obviously one of those nights.

One of those heartbreaking, kick-in-the-gut, “weird’’ nights.

“We’ve got to get our concentration back and our edge back defensively,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Everyone is worried offensively about how we’re going to score, and I like what we’re doing offensively. The defense and the rebounding really hurt us. We’ve got to get that straightened out.’’

In other words, good defensive teams don’t allow the Cavaliers to put 97 up on the board, including 34 combined points from big men Andrew Bynum and Thompson.

“I’ve got to do a better job defensively holding the paint down,’’ Noah said. “They scored a lot of easy baskets in transition, a lot of easy baskets in the paint, and that starts with me.

“We have to put out a better effort. And it’s going to get better.’’

The Bulls (7-8) were trailing most of the game, but with 3:59 left, a layup by rookie Tony Snell gave them a brief 88-87 lead. They even outscored the Cavaliers 27-20 in the fourth quarter. But it wasn’t enough. Even Deng’s game-high 27 points and 11 assists weren’t enough.

“It’s easy to say just play better defense, but we’re held accountable,’’ Dunleavy said. “We know what we’re supposed to do. And everyone values it. That’s the main thing. Maybe in the last week or so with Jimmy not on the trip and Derrick going down, you think, ‘Well, we have to give a little more offensively.’ Then you slack off on the defense.

“But when it all settles, we’ll still hang our hat on the defense and rebounding. That will get us through a lot of wins this year.’’

The bigger question for the Bulls is when will those victories start showing up?

“I guess we’ll find out,’’ Dunleavy said. “It’s like you fix one thing, you slack off in another. We have to figure out a way to perform in all areas on a nightly basis.

“We just don’t have much room for error when it comes down to it.’’

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com



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