Against one of the hottest teams in the NBA, Chicago probably shouldn't have even been close on Saturday night. The Bull,. after all, were without their top three offensive players and on the final night of a grueling six-game road trip across the country
But Chicago trailed the Utah Jazz by just two points late in the third quarter at EnergySolutions Arena.
In the end, the Jazz picked up the not-so-surprising victory, 97-87, but the Bulls were still proud of their effort.
"We ran out of gas a little bit at the end," said Chicago interim coach Jim Boylan, not to be confused with the nearly identically named University of Utah coach. "A couple of guys were pretty tired. We played hard. We competed. It was a good team we played against out there one of the best home teams in the NBA."
The Bulls, who dropped to 20-30 with the loss, were without shooting guard Ben Gordon (wrist sprain), swingman Luol Deng (Achilles tendonitis) and point guard Kirk Hinrich (bruised ribs). That trio averages a combined 51 points per game for a team scoring 95 points an outing.
The Bulls still had one high-priced, former All-Star on the floor, center Ben Wallace. But he's known for his defense and rebounding, not his scoring. Wallace is only averaging 4.9 points per game.
So with Gordon, Deng and Hinrich out, Swiss rookie Thabo Sefolosha scored a team-high 22 points, 17 more than his average.
"Thabo brings a lot to the table," said Boylan of his thin, 6-7 guard. "His length is always present around the floor. It's nice to have him around the rim rebounding or blocking shots or finishing. He had an excellent game tonight and he had an excellent road trip."
Sefolosha's 22 points tied his career high and he added a team-high seven rebounds.
"We are missing three parts of our team right now so somebody else needs to step up," Sefolosha explained.
The good news for the Bulls is that none of the injuries to their stars is serious. Hinrich could be back this week while both Gordon, who will have an MRI when he gets back to Chicago, and Deng are expected after the All-Star break.
"We're starting to play a little bit better because our effort is consistently better," said Boylan, who replaced Scott Skiles at Christmastime. "Each guy is trying to play a little bit harder. When the other guys get back, that can't change. We can't change the way we play or the effort we give just because we're getting a couple of guys back who have been injured."
The other good news for the Bulls is that they are in the Eastern Conference. Despite being 10 games under .500, they are still within a couple of games of a playoff spot. They ended their six-game trip with a 2-4 mark with the highlight being a win at Golden State.
The Bulls also gave Utah, Portland and Sacramento all they could handle in three of the losses."We played against four very good Western Conference teams and I thought we played well against every single team," said Boylan. "That's what I said to our guys. We need to bring that approach to the games back in the Eastern Conference now."