Last season, the Chicago Bulls rebounded from losing their first nine games to make the postseason for the first time since Michael Jordan’s departure. The Bulls will need another major turnaround this season if they want to make it two straight playoff appearances.
The last-place Bulls look to end a six-game losing streak when they face the Milwaukee Bucks at the United Center.
Chicago’s latest defeat came Saturday in overtime, 107-98 to the Phoenix Suns. The Bulls led by five with less than two minutes remaining and had an opportunity to win in the final seconds of regulation, but Ben Gordon missed a layup as time expired.
“I don’t think we had any business being in overtime,” Chicago coach Scott Skiles said. “We’re up by five with 1:44 to go. As has been the case, we’ve had trouble getting stops. You’re up five with that amount of time left, you don’t need to score if you can get two or three stops in a row.”
The Bulls were outscored 15-6 by the Suns in the extra period.
Skiles shook up his lineup Saturday in an attempt to spark the team, replacing Andres Nocioni and Michael Sweetney with Gordon and Tyson Chandler. Gordon finished with 15 points but shot 7-of-19 from the floor, while Chandler took only two shots and had two points.
“It stinks, that’s for sure,” said guard Kirk Hinrich, who scored a game-high 25 points for the Bulls. “Our losing streak, we wanted to break out of it. We played well enough to do it. We just didn’t win the game. It’s just real frustrating at this point.”
Chicago bounced back from last season’s 0-9 start by going 47-26 to earn a playoff berth for the first time since 1997-98, when Jordan led them to their sixth NBA title. The Bulls, though, will need substantial improvement in several areas if they are going to make it back to the postseason—especially from the free-throw line.
Chicago is one of the NBA’s worst free-throw shooting teams at 70.7 percent. The Bulls made eight of 11 foul shots against the Suns, but Darius Songaila missed the first of two free throws with 18 seconds to go that would have given the Bulls a three-point lead.
Chicago is on pace for its lowest free-throw percentage since shooting 70.5 percent in 1993-94.
The Bulls are also struggling defensively, having allowed at least 102 points in four of the six defeats during the skid to fall four games behind fourth-place Indiana in the division.
The Bulls hope their recent play at home against the Bucks will help them end their slide. Chicago is 7-1 against Milwaukee in the teams’ last eight meetings at the United Center.
Milwaukee avoided a third straight loss Friday with a 113-18 victory over the New York Knicks. Mo Williams had 30 points and Michael Redd added 22 for the Bucks, who used a 10-2 run in the fourth quarter to build a seven-point lead.
After the Knicks cut the deficit to one with just over three minutes to play, Milwaukee scored six straight points to regain control.
The Bucks will play again Monday without point guard T.J. Ford, who’s out two weeks with a foot sprain. Milwaukee hardly missed him Friday, however, as Williams moved into the starting lineup in Ford’s place.
“Mo has more of a scorer’s mentality, more of a 3-point shooter,” Redd said. “T.J. is more of a penetrator, a creator. They both bring a little something different to the table.”
The Bucks’ next four games are against division opponents. Milwaukee plays two games each this week against the Bulls and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are 1 1/2 games ahead of the Bucks for second place in the Central.