MINNEAPOLIS – The Bulls used to dine on adversity.
Pull it off the bone, chew on it and swallow it down. Star player in street clothes for months? No problem, next man up. Three games in four nights? Heck, let’s play four in five. Game moved to the roof of the arena? Get the ladders!
This year’s team? No one wants to use the word “soft,’’ so let’s go ahead and use it for them.
Further evidence of that was offered up on Saturday, as the Bulls (27-23) once again held a lead late over a below average NBA team, only to let go of the rope and crumble.
The latest collapse came courtesy of a 16-36 Minnesota team, as the Bulls watched a five-point lead with 4:31 left slowly slip through their fingers and end in a 112-105 Timberwolves win.
“It definitely can,’’ veteran Mike Dunleavy said, when he was asked about this becoming mental. “I hope it doesn’t. This team – we talked about it a little bit – we have to have a bigger team ego. To the point where it’s like, ‘Look, man, we go into games like we’re winning this game. And down the stretch, we’re going to handle business.’ There’s like this doubt that seems to be creeping in. We’re too good for that. We got good players. We’re well-coached. We have to execute better. But more importantly, we have to have that feeling like we’re going to get this done.’’
A feeling completely lost on this trip, as the Bulls have fallen to teams like Utah, Denver and now Minnesota late in games, sitting at 2-4 on this trip with one game left in Charlotte.
After a Pau Gasol jumper gave the Bulls that 101-96 lead, it was the same script, as the offense missed shots and the defense went limp.
Derrick Rose made two free throws with 2:55 left and the Bulls didn’t score again.
“Not now. You can’t do it now,’’ Rose said, when asked if it was time to start losing patience with this team. “I’m not worried about it. We just got to find a way to hold onto the lead in the fourth quarter.’’
When asked why he’s not worried about it Rose said, “There’s a lot of basketball to play. We got two games left. Hopefully we can win these two, and try and catch a rhythm before All-Star.’’
A hard get without Jimmy Butler (left knee) for at least one of those games. And even with Dunleavy finally making his season debut, as well as getting Pau Gasol (left hand) back, there remained something very off about this team, especially on the defensive end.
“First and foremost, you have to have a couple games where things go your way and you make things happen,’’ Dunleavy said, when asked what will turn things around. “But you do it through practice and repetition and mostly it’s just that belief inside. Whatever makes everybody individually good, you have to bring that together collectively. Just have that belief no matter who is playing and who is not.
“This team has been through this before in terms of having guys it. It hasn’t stopped us. You just show up, do your job and you get wins. That’s what we’ve done. So we have to get back on track.’’