Conversation shifted to Metta World Peace bodying up the larger Carlos Boozer on defense since Boozer missed 12 of 16 shots. There even was the obligatory Kobe Bryant mention, the way the star eased into the game as a playmaker and almost finished with a triple-double, posting 19 points, nine assists and seven rebounds.
But if you want to get to the heart of the Bulls' woes these days — once you get past the injuries, of course — you have to focus on the offensive end.
Playing again without Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich, Richard Hamilton and Taj Gibson, the Bulls shot just 37.1 percent and tallied a mere 17 assists on their 33 field goals.
"We have to get better ball movement to get better rhythm," Luol Deng said. "We're taking a lot of random shots right now."
Indeed, the ball and player movement that so defined earlier impressive offensive showings has disappeared, lost amid the injury-forced changing roles and a whole lot of Nate Robinson.
The spunky point guard posted a team-high 19 points with an impressive eight assists to just one turnover in his 43 minutes. But his game often takes others out of the offense, a contrast to Hinrich and, of course, Rose.
"Offensively, we have to keep the ball moving," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "When we hold on to it and settle for the long two, that's a tough shot. Our level of intensity has to go up, especially on the road."
The Bulls have managed to score 100 or more points just twice in their last 16 games. Their shooting percentages over the last eight games reads like a bad report card: .371, .370, .367, .432, .521 (how'd that get in there?), .386, .500, season-low .291.
Howard looked like a different, healthier player than the one who sleepwalked through the Bulls' home victory against the Lakers in January. The Bulls closed their rebounding deficit to just four by game's end but were dominated early.
"He's always a beast and tough to keep off the glass, especially when you're trying to contain Kobe and get back to him," said Joakim Noah, who had 18 points, 17 rebounds and three blocks. "Overall, I wish we had fouled him a bit more. But he's a handful."
So is Bryant, who took over with five points and four assists in the fourth, when the Bulls made a late push to move within 77-69 with 8:02 left.
"We just have to keep fighting," Noah said. "Sometimes I think we get a little too frustrated. We have to understand there's still a long way to go and guys are going to come back healthy and we're going to make our run.
"A lot of it is mental with us. We get frustrated really easily right now. If we stick together through these hard times, I think it will make our team that much better."