This was supposed to be a soft spot on the Bulls' schedule, the first of four home games against the league's worst teams after two consecutive poundings at the hands of its best.
Instead, they opened a five-game homestand Saturday night looking, if not exactly lethargic, certainly something south of sharp as the generally hapless Minnesota Timberwolves held off the Bulls' mild fourth-quarter charge for a 102-92 victory.
The second of Andres Nocioni's consecutive three-pointers in the final quarter gave the Bulls their first lead since early on at 73-72. But the Bulls struggled to find the basket all game.
Like so many other nights this season, they simply did not have the wherewithal to close as Minnesota won just its eighth game this season and fourth on the road. The Bulls suffered their third straight loss and sixth in their last seven games.
Still without forward Drew Gooden, whose return from a right ankle injury has been delayed, the Bulls (14-20) continue to be stretched where they are thinnest. They were outrebounded 51-41 and a galling 28-8 in second-chance points.
Tyrus Thomas tried to compensate with five first-half blocks and a career-high eight for the game to go along with 15 points and eight rebounds. But that was offset by the T'wolves' 17 offensive rebounds and the Bulls' 39 percent shooting.
If this was not the lowest point of the season, it has to come close.
"It's disappointing, especially at home, but just losing in general," Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said. "I thought we had a much better effort tonight. We scrambled as best we could. But we still have to shoot a higher percentage than 39 percent to win, especially with the guys we have out right now."
Nocioni, involved in mini-controversy Friday night for his vocal on-court squabble with Joakim Noah, had his emotions in check Saturday but was not interested in talking about how much better the Bulls would be with the return of Gooden, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich.
"The way we lost I don't think it's because we have some people out," he said. "It's because we're not playing well, we're not playing enough of the 'D' to win. We're not stopping people in the last five minutes when we need to stop people.
"I don't think we need to make an excuse. Right now it's not about the coaches, it's not about the organization, not about Chicago. It's about us, about the players.
"We need to react, we need to play harder, try to be there every night. We need every player to think about what we need to do, and that's it."
Both teams were playing the second half of back-to-back contests, and it looked like it as they missed a combined 14 shots during a 4-minute-15-second drought to open the game before Ben Gordon scored on a give-and-go from Aaron Gray..
It did not pick up much. Gordon struggled at 7 of 21 from the floor while Derrick Rose connected on 2 of 10 shots in the first half before hitting 7 of 9 in the second to finish with a game-high 22 points.
"The shots that I missed, I wasn't supposed to miss," Rose said of the early struggles. "The second half I just got the right rotation on the ball and just aimed for the back of the [rim], I guess."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun