Injury-riddled Bulls continue to fall apart in loss to Hawks

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Taj Gibson puts up a shot over the Hawks’ Paul Millsap on Wednesday. Gibson strained his left foot in the loss. | Getty Images

Identity crisis? Sure looks that way.

Taj Gibson brought it up when the Bulls finished their seven-game trip with another thud that left them 2-5.

The losing trend continued at home with a 113-90 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday at a restless United Center.

“Obviously, it’s extremely disappointing the stretch we’re in right now,” coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I challenged them to find a way to get committed to this thing and go on a run. That’s all we can do now is look forward. It’s been a bad, bad stretch of basketball.”

Adding to their injury woes, Gibson departed after straining his left foot with 4:48 left in the third quarter and did not return.

“It’s real sore. It’s lucky we’re getting a break right now,’’ Gibson said.

The Bulls don’t return from the All-Star break until next Thursday.

It was the Bulls’ fifth consecutive loss at home. And so, the soul-searching will continue among their fans and within a struggling organization that has lost 13 of its last 18 games.

“It’s not pleasant to be booed,” said Pau Gasol, who led the Bulls with 20 points and 10 rebounds. “But our fans have all the right in the world to express their feelings. We have to try to make them proud and make them cheer and get out of this building next time with a win.”

The identity crisis Gibson mentioned relates to the Bulls’ uneasy transition from the defensive obsession of former coach Tom Thibodeau to the more free-flowing offensive designs of coach Fred Hoiberg.

Whether Hoiberg can install that offense with a healthy roster is an ongoing question.

Gibson believes the Bulls can get back to their defensive identity.

“We got little spurts here and there,” he said, adding that the Bulls aren’t quitting. “I don’t think it’s quit. I think at times we have a little doubt. That’s where the talking and leadership [come in]. It’s frustrating. I try to tell guys we have to get back to playing for each other. Just play. Lay it on the line. We have more than enough to win games.”

Despite that sentiment, where the Bulls are headed with their injury-depleted roster is a different story.

Derrick Rose returned from the “general soreness’’ that sidelined him Monday at Charlotte to score 14 points on 6-for-18 shooting with five rebounds and three assists. Rose has been playing better but not enough to lift the faltering Bulls.

With Jimmy Butler out three to four weeks with a strained left knee, the Bulls are without their best player. With two other important contributors out, Nikola Mirotic (appendectomy) and Joakim Noah (shoulder surgery), a lot of fresh faces are seeing more playing time.

With the Bulls’ defensive identity in question, eight Hawks players scored in double figures.

“We have 30 games left,’’ Rose said. “We have to decide whether we want to play or not.’’

Follow me on Twitter @HerbGould.

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