Welcoming back critical rotation pieces in Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson, the Bulls' defense was battered and bruised as the Trail Blazers cruised to a 99-89 victory that wasn't that close Thursday night at the United Center.
"We got smacked," said Joakim Noah, who scored a team-high 18 points. "It's really disappointing. We're not playing great right now. It's the final stretch and we're not getting it done. We have to find a way."
LaMarcus Aldridge scored 28 points and Rookie of the Year favorite Damian Lillard added 24 as the Trail Blazers opened the second quarter with a 14-0 run and never were challenged seriously thereafter. They led by as many as 28 and watched that lead mostly dissipate in garbage time.
Searching for energy, coach Tom Thibodeau, as resigned as he ever has been after a loss, settled on the unconventional lineup of Nate Robinson, Jimmy Butler, Marco Belinelli, Nazr Mohammed and Gibson. He rode them most of the fourth quarter. Robinson's spectacular second dunk of the season, in which he first split a double-team with a between-the-legs dribble, sparked a 16-4 run that finally woke the crowd.
But the Trail Blazers, who shot 10 of 21 from 3-point range, kept coming up with big plays. J.J. Hickson grabbed a career-high 21 rebounds. Wes Matthews added 11 points with three 3-pointers.
"We missed a lot of good looks early," Hinrich said. "They were knocking down shots and kept rolling. We couldn't seem to put any stop to it."
Hinrich, who had missed seven games with a sore right foot, missed 6 of 7 shots and couldn't stop Lillard.
"Other than getting drummed like that, I was happy with the way (the foot) felt," Hinrich said. "Hopefully moving forward it will keep getting better and better. Right now, it feels fine."
Gibson looked strong after missing 10 games with a sprained MCL in his left knee, finishing with 14 points and nine rebounds in 25 minutes.
"I felt good at times," Gibson said. "I just have to keep playing. It's not going to be perfect. There's still going to be pain here and there. But it's coming down to the wire and all about pushing through."
Just like for the Bulls.
Layups: Derrick Rose on Simeon's fourth straight state championship, won over Stevenson and Jalen Brunson, son of former Bulls and current Bobcats assistant Rick: "That's history right there with Jabari (Parker) and that team, Coach Rob (Smith). They got a prep school over there, man. But I actually talked to Jalen before the game. He has been playing great only to be a sophomore. I wish him nothing but the best." … Asked Thursday morning if he was happy with the Bulls' intensity, Thibodeau offered up this: "I'd be very concerned about any happy coaches."