INDIANAPOLIS – The first three games of the regular season felt easy.
High energy, quick starts, and oh, all that love.
Bulls players couldn’t talk enough about all the love going around the locker room, as well as all the frequent off-the-court gatherings. Team chemistry at its finest.
“We’ll see when adversity hits,’’ veteran guard Dwyane Wade warned. “Because it’s going to hit.’’
Hit it has. And not with a subtle smack on the cheek, either. No, Saturday’s 111-94 loss to the Pacers at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse was a straight left hook to the face.
The third straight one suffered by the Bulls, who have now watched that 3-0 start even out at 3-3, and suddenly have more questions than answers.
And while there was plenty of finger-pointing to go around on this latest slip up, Jimmy Butler wants it pointed in just one direction.
“I can’t come out lackadaisical,’’ Butler said. “I’ve got to make sure everyone is doing what they’re supposed to do. I think that’s on us. That’s not even on the coaches.
“I think it’s going to have to be me to lead the charge, making sure we come out with the right energy, making sure we’re doing everything we’re supposed to do on both ends of the floor. I’m definitely capable of doing that.’’
When asked if he felt like he had been playing lackadaisical in the losing streak, Butler didn’t hide from it.
“I don’t think I’ve started off as aggressive as I should, which means I should always be the most aggressive one coming out the gates,’’ Butler said. “That’s the way I look at it. I haven’t done that probably the last two games. We change that and we’ll be fine. Not just on offense, but on defense as well.’’
It’s that suddenly inconsistent defense, however, that once again showed up early on against the Pacers (3-3).
The Bulls were outscored 31-15 in the first quarter, and then allowed another 31 points in the second quarter, going into the halftime locker room down 62-43. In those opening 24 minutes, they allowed Indiana to shoot 26-for-43 (60.5 percent) from the field, while hurting their own cause by turning the ball over 11 times and allowing 16 points off those miscues.
“We just looked like a tired basketball team right out of the gate,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said. “They opened up a 16-point lead, and that’s a tough hole to dig yourself out of.
“Gotta find a way to bounce back and get back to doing the things that made us successful early on in the season.’’
It wasn’t like Indiana wasn’t willing to try and make a comeback easier for the Bulls in the second half, as All-Star Paul George was thrown out of the game with 1:42 left in the third quarter, after he kicked a ball in frustration and it sailed into the stands, nailing a fan in the face.
George’s wallet is about to be made lighter, but at least he didn’t have to stick around for the rest of the blow-out. George finished with 13, while the Bulls were led by Butler and Bobby Portis each scoring 16.
“It starts on the defensive end of the floor,’’ Dwyane Wade said of the latest loss. “We got to understand that after we won those first three, we have the blueprint of what success is for us. We just got to get to it more times than not.
“If we don’t there will be games like this that you don’t want in this long season.’’