Was it Elizabeth Barrett Browning who wrote, "How do I lose thee Bulls? Let me count the ways."
In yet another embarrassing blowout, this time 116-98 to the Houston Rockets, the Bulls lost again Saturday night because of poor play from their bench (outscored 51-21) and because of poor rebounding as the Rockets dominated the passive Bulls on the backboards 50-34, 20-12 on the offensive boards. Over the last three quarters, the Rockets scored 95 points.
This one was poetry only to the previously struggling Rockets, who had lost 5 of 6 and now are 13-14.
For the Bulls, it made it back-to-back non-competitive efforts and a seemingly shaken team and coaching staff. They are watching their season slip away at 9-16, 5-7 at home with a disgusted home crowd booing and leaving early.
Coach Scott Skiles lingered extra long in his office after the game talking with general manager John Paxson while players seemed dazed in answering questions.
"I don't think you can describe what happened out there tonight in one word," said center Ben Wallace, who was scoreless with five rebounds and three blocks in 28 minutes. "We have to do a better job playing for one another. At times we look like strangers out there. Everyone in this locker room is a little bit relaxed. You have to have a chip on your shoulder. Right now, we're going through the motions and looking at the next guy to bail us out.
"I don't need to look past myself. Me, personally, I'm not happy with the way I've been playing, not happy with my role, not happy with a lot of things out on the floor. I have to step my game up."
Skiles was equally obtuse, talking about what a good start the Bulls had in taking a 26-21 first-quarter lead.
"The closest to ourselves we've looked all season," he insisted. "[But] the effort is not what it needs to be; that's for sure. I would not say it isn't there at all. It's just not where it needs to be for our team to win."
This was supposed to be a comeback after that bad loss Friday in Boston. And the Bulls did show some life early with Joe Smith hustling and Kirk Hinrich and Deng, with 22 and 21 points respectively, hitting their open shots. But the defense was slow again, the ball didn't move much and Luther Head, Bonzi Wells and Luis Scola came off the bench to outrun and outshoot the Bulls to a 10-point second-quarter deficit after the Bulls had led by 10 in the first.
The Bulls cut it to 52-48 at halftime, but Shane Battier got open for three three-pointers in the third and the Rockets steadily pulled away with the holiday weekend crowd hardly festive as it booed the Bulls throughout the fourth quarter. Wells and Tracy McGrady with 20 each led Houston, which had seven players in double figures.
"I thought we were going to play well," Skiles said. "I have not been right a whole lot lately."
This is a Bulls team that will be much harder to love in death, which it appears quickly to be facing.