Tired Bulls follow familiar pattern vs. Raps

Luol Deng scored 10 points in 34 minutes against the Raptors on Friday. John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY Sports

TORONTO -- Nazr Mohammed didn't want to hear it.

The veteran center didn't want to wonder why the Bulls played so poorly in a 97-88 loss to the Toronto Raptors Friday night. He didn't want to use an excuse.

"We don't use excuses," Mohammed said after playing a team-high 43 minutes. "They won, they made shots, we didn't. We didn't get the stops when we needed them and we didn't execute the way we normally do."

It's nothing new this season. The Bulls have a habit of knocking off good teams, like the New York Knicks on Thursday night, and following that up by losing to bad ones. The Bulls have repeatedly shown that they can beat anyone but also lose to any team in the league.

But the reality on some nights is that no matter how hard Tom Thibodeau screams and pushes and no matter how much the players try to block out the excuses, there are going to be times when the gas tank is empty. Friday night was one of those times.

After such an emotional overtime win over the Knicks, the short-handed Bulls just didn't have anything left once the second half began. Their execution was lacking and their defensive lapses were noticeable. They struggled to move up and down the floor -- much to Thibodeau's dismay.

"You play for each other and that commitment has to be made by everybody," Thibodeau said. "So if we don't do that we're not going to give ourselves a chance to win. We're shorthanded -- our chances are intensity -- and doing everything collectively. If we do that we have a chance to win. If we don't, if someone wants to stay outside the circle, it's going to break everyone down."

There was plenty of blame to go around. Richard Hamilton was ejected after playing just 15 minutes because he threw an elbow at DeMar DeRozan. Jimmy Butler looked exhausted and scored just seven as he wrapped up a three-game stretch in which he played almost 135 minutes. Carlos Boozer dominated the game in the first half with 17 points and then spent the second half in foul trouble as a non-factor and scored just two points.

The Bulls can talk all they want about not playing up or down to their competition, but it seems clear that when they need an emotional jolt against good teams they find one. Against the bad teams, they usually just play poorly, especially in the last few weeks.

"We just didn't play well tonight for whatever reason," Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich said. "Everybody plays 82. You can't really blame it on the schedule. We just didn't play well."

So what do they have to do to fix it?

There's probably not much they can do with just three games left. This is who the Bulls are this year. They're good, then they're bad and that makes them a middle-of-the-road team. The Bulls need to get healthy and make their final push a week from now for the playoffs.

"I've been around long enough where injuries are a part of the game," Mohammed said. "There's highs and lows. There may be a part in the season where you win eight out of 10, nine out of 10. There may be a part of the season when you lose to some teams you should beat. It's just the way it is.

"Sometimes teams match up against you well, sometimes teams are hot, it's just the way it is. You don't beat everyone you're supposed to and you don't always lose to teams that are supposed to beat you."