A stretch of four games in five days finally caught up with the Chicago Bulls.
After a day off to catch their breath, the Bulls look to bounce back from their first loss in almost three weeks Saturday night when they face the visiting Utah Jazz for the only time this season.
Riding a season-high eight-game winning streak and coming off a last-second win the previous night, Chicago (33-9) could not overcome a rough start in Thursday's 99-94 loss to Orlando that opened a six-game homestand. Playing for the fourth time in five days, the Bulls trailed 37-22 after one quarter and though they fought back to take a two-point lead with 2:56 left, could not hold on and suffered their first loss since Feb. 18 versus New Jersey.
"When you get that far in the hole, you can't win like that,'' said coach Tom Thibodeau, whose team shot 40.7 percent overall and 5 of 22 from 3-point range. "That comes back on me. I have to get them ready to play.''
Carlos Boozer had 26 points and Derrick Rose added 17 but shot just 6 of 22 - one night after he went 8 of 22 but hit a game-winning jumper in a 106-104 victory at Milwaukee. Rose (22.5 points per game) might be showing some signs of fatigue, shooting 19 of 60 (31.7 percent) over his last three contests while being held to fewer than 18 points in two of them.
Hampered by a nagging wrist injury, All-Star Luol Deng is averaging 11.3 points on 34.1 percent shooting over his last four games. There's a chance he could sit out Saturday, as well as games next week against New York and Miami.
"We're going to talk about it, talk with the medical staff and Thibs," Deng told the Bulls' official website. "The past few games (the pain) escalated a little bit. I've been managing it the last few games. It's mostly going to be rest. It's getting better."
While Deng's health is obviously a concern - especially with guards Richard Hamilton (shoulder) and C.J. Watson (ankle) still sidelined - the Bulls also need to tighten up their interior defense. Chicago allowed Milwaukee forward Ersan Ilyasova to score a career-high 32 points Wednesday and Dwight Howard to drop 29 the following night.
"We are capable of playing much better defense," said Thibodeau, whose team allowed the Magic to pull down 17 offensive rebounds. "We have to have discipline."
Utah's Al Jefferson (18.9 ppg, 9.3 rpg) poses another challenge. The veteran big man has totaled 59 points and 26 boards in last season's two meetings with Chicago.
The Bulls swept the 2010-11 series between these clubs despite Jefferson's efforts, and have averaged 110.0 points while winning three of their last four home meetings with the Jazz. Rose is averaging 25.0 points on 50.9 percent shooting in three career games against the Jazz at the United Center.
Utah (19-20) looks to bounce back after falling to 2-2 on a five-game trip after a 104-91 loss at Philadelphia on Friday. Paul Millsap had 15 points with nine rebounds but the Jazz shot 40.5 percent while allowing the 76ers to convert at a 52.6 percent clip.
"We've got to let this go,'' Millsap said. "We can't feel sorry for ourselves.''
Jefferson had 14 points and six rebounds in Friday's loss.