Bulls looking to end fourth-quarter woes

DEERFIELD, Ill. -- If only the second quarter decided NBA games, because it’s the lone quarter Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau feels like his team can control right now.

“From a defensive standpoint, we haven’t started well, and the second quarter was a major issue and that seems to be a lot better now,” Thibodeau said after Friday’s practice. “But you have to play for 48 minutes. You can’t pick and choose when you’re going to play, this quarter or that quarter. It’s all four quarters. We just have to do better.”

All four quarters may need some improvement, but the fourth quarter has especially caught the ire of Thibodeau. The Bulls have been outscored in the fourth quarter in their last four games, three of which were losses, and in six of their 11 games this season.

“We just got to continue to work on it,” Thibodeau said. “That’s all teams. The fourth quarter is different than the first three quarters. We have to understand our reads in order, what we’re trying to get to. We have to be able to sustain our spacing for a second or third option, play to our strengths, know what matchups are going on, cover up our weaknesses. We can do that better.”

The Bulls’ fourth-quarter woes during their recent West Coast trip began again the Phoenix Suns on Nov. 14. The Suns outscored them 31-17 in the final quarter, and it included nearly a three-minute scoring drought for the Bulls. The Bulls were able to pull out a win in overtime.

Their next game wasn’t any better. In a 101-80 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, the Bulls were outscored 23-19 in the fourth quarter, and they went without a basket for the game’s final 3:36.

In a 102-94 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, the Bulls were outscored 29-26 in the final quarter and went without a basket from 10:49 to 6:52, 6:51 to 4:41 and 3:31 to 1:21. They salvaged the quarter by scoring 10 points in the final minute.

Finally in Wednesday’s 93-89 loss to the Houston Rockets, they were outscored 27-24 in the fourth quarter and squandered an 84-79 lead with 4:41 remaining.

No surprise, each game drove Thibodeau mad.

“We felt we were in position to win those games, and we let them get away,” Thibodeau said. “We have to close out better.”

Bulls starting point guard Kirk Hinrich felt Friday’s practice went well and was a positive step toward ending their winning streak when they face the Milwaukee Bucks on the road on Saturday. Hinrich thought toughness was one of the elements the Bulls had been missing in recent fourth quarters.

“We just have to be tougher,” Hinrich said. “It’s hard to win in this league. You get into these back-and-forth games, and the team that makes plays down the stretch is going to win. We just have to be a little bit smarter, a little bit tougher and make some plays.

“It seems like it’s a variety of issues. I don’t think it’s the same problem every night. The Houston game we were right there, just couldn’t close it out. We just have to get better in that regard. Moving forward we got two games here with Milwaukee (they play again on Monday), division opponent and have to go out there and try to impose our will on them, play hard and get a win.”