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Lack of toughness and discipline again comes to the forefront as Bulls lose to the Clippers

LOS ANGELES – The Bulls aren’t short on swagger to start games.

That hasn’t been the problem this season.

The toughness to maintain that swagger, especially when there’s some adversity thrown their way during a game? That’s when this team continues to come up very soft.

That was once again on full display Sunday afternoon at the Staples Center, when the Bulls were hit with a standing 8-count in the third quarter, and simply seemed to shrink under the pressure provided by Los Angeles.

That’s how a very manageable four-point halftime deficit turned into a 120-93 one-sided laugher for the Clippers.

And afterward, that’s also why toughness and discipline were being questioned.

“Because we let guys do whatever they want to do out there,’’ All-Star guard Jimmy Butler said, when asked why toughness keeps being an issue with this team. “Not putting bodies on people, not rebounding, letting guys get to their strengths. That’s will. Defense is all about toughness, and when we’re not guarding anybody we don’t look very tough.’’

It wasn’t just a lack of guarding against the Clippers, but a lack of keeping them off the three-point line. Los Angeles (32-16) held their very own three-point contest against the Bulls, and all of them won, as the Clippers shot 17-for-32 (53.1 percent) from long range.

And while Butler wouldn’t go as far as saying his team was soft, he did admit to a lack of discipline.

“Oh yeah, in a lot of key areas,’’ Butler said. “Which is why games turn out the way that they do at times. I don’t know. We better figure it out. We got a long road ahead of us.’’

The major disappointment was it was on Thursday night in the same arena that the Bulls (26-20) played so well. Yes, it came against the Lakers, but it was still the model in which coach Fred Hoiberg has wanted to see.

Obviously, it didn’t have staying power.

“You got to keep talking about it,’’ Hoiberg said of his team’s lack of grit. “Again, I’ve been saying this all year: I hate to sound like a broken record. We’re a really good team when things are going well. We go out there and play with a swagger and a confidence, but we lose that. We lose that when things aren’t going well.’’

The Bulls did get nice contributions from both Derrick Rose and Butler, who combined to score 43 points from the backcourt. Veteran Pau Gasol chipped in 15 points and 14 rebounds. But when the opposing team’s bench outscores you 58-18, well, that’s the making of a long afternoon.

“It’s been the story of the year, but like I said if I could put a finger on it, I swear I would,’’ Rose said of his team’s up and down play from game-to-game. “I watch a lot of basketball, and the only thing I can think of is just that effort, and sticking with the game-plan.’’

Unfortunately for the Bulls, there’s not a lot of time to hang heads. They play the second half of a back-to-back Monday night in Utah.

“We’re not discipline,’’ Gasol said. “It’s true. It’s a fact. We’ll have to prove if we can or not. We’re disciplined at times. But the lack of consistency is very noticeable. It’s nothing new. There’s no discovery here.’’