The Chicago Bulls might have the best record in the NBA, but without star guard Derrick Rose they've found it hard at times to play at a high level.
With Rose possibly out for a third straight game, the Bulls face a tough challenge trying to bounce back from a rare home loss when they host the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night.
Two nights after Chicago (36-10) gave a complete effort without Rose in a 106-102 win over Miami, the Bulls lacked intensity throughout a 100-89 home loss to struggling Portland on Friday. Carlos Boozer had 22 points with 14 rebounds, but the Bulls went 8 of 27 from 3-point range and were outscored 22-10 in the fourth quarter to fall to 8-4 without the reigning MVP.
Chicago has not dropped consecutive regular season games since Feb. 5-7, 2011, and back-to-back contests at the United Center since a five-game skid March 1-19, 2010.
"We've got to play hard, we've got to learn," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "Once you start feeling good about yourself and you start taking short cuts, you know how it's going to end."
Though Philadelphia (25-19) has dropped two straight overall and six of eight on the road, Thibodeau is well aware the Atlantic Division leaders present a difficult challenge, especially if Rose (22.8 points per game) remains out with a sore groin. The teams split their first two meetings, both in Philadelphia. The 76ers handed Chicago one of its worst losses of the year, 98-82 on Feb. 1.
"The challenge is to be ready," he said. "Philly is a tough team, we have got to be ready to go. The injuries are part of it, you have to respond."
Rose scored 35 and Chicago shot 47.6 percent in a 96-91 win at Philadelphia on March 4. Without Rose on Friday, Chicago shot 42.4 percent against a Portland team that fired coach Nate McMillan following a 42-point loss at New York on Wednesday. It was the third time Chicago lost to a team currently with a losing record.
"We lost against the worst and we beat the best," forward Joakim Noah said. "It is what it is. It hurts, but we have another tough one (Saturday) so just got to come ready."
It took Philadelphia almost three quarters before it decided to compete during an 84-78 home loss to the Heat on Friday. Trailing 61-32 early in the third, the 76ers cut the deficit to four late in the fourth quarter to make things close.
"I thought that once we got a little angry, we channeled it in the right direction," said coach Doug Collins, whose team shot 35.5 percent. "You don't want to dig yourself that kind of hole, but it's sure nice to know the game's not over."
Evan Turner, who had a team-high 13 points with eight rebounds Friday, has averaged 17.0 on 53.1 percent shooting and 10.2 boards in the last six games since cracking the starting lineup.
Averaging 19.0 points on 23-of-41 (56.1 percent) shooting in the last three games against the Bulls, 76ers forward Thaddeus Young scored 21 during a 97-85 win at Chicago on March 28.
Philadelphia starting center Spencer Hawes is expected to play after he rested his sore Achilles on Friday.
From Elias: Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau has the chance to break the all-time record for fastest to 100 victories. Thibodeau, currently in his 2nd season, has posted a 98-30 overall record thus far and would need wins vs Philadelphia (tonight) and at Orlando (Monday) to break the record currently held by Avery Johnson.
Thibodeau won the NBA Coach of the Year award last season and with the Bulls currently owning the best record in the NBA at 36-10, he'll likely be in the running again. Since the award began back in 1962-63, no coach has ever won it in back-to-back seasons and no Bulls coach has ever won it multiple times.