After appearing to be on the verge of getting their act together, the Bulls stumbled in a big way Wednesday, losing to the Knicks 115-107.
Jimmy Butler took full responsibility.
‘‘You’re supposed to say it’s a team thing,’’ Butler said after scoring seven points while his man, Carmelo Anthony, had 24. ‘‘When your so-called best player is not doing what he’s supposed to do, that’s what’s going to happen.’’
Was he referring to himself?
‘‘Yeah,’’ he said softly. ‘‘You see the way I’ve been playing lately. It’s sad. My teammates won’t say it. My coaches won’t say it. But I’m a realist. If I continue to play like this, I’m hurting this team.’’
Butler adamantly declined to blame his problems on the knee injury that sidelined him for all but one game from Feb. 6 to March 14.
‘‘It has nothing to do with the knee; my body’s fine,’’ said Butler, pointing to a rhythm problem that’s lingering in his game despite the extra work he’s putting in. ‘‘There’s nothing wrong with me physically. It’s mental. The ball’s not going in. I let that affect me at both ends of the floor.
‘‘It had better turn around quick because I want to help this team make the playoffs.’’
The Bulls won’t have to wait long for a revenge opportunity. They play the previously struggling Knicks again Thursday in New York.
Nikola Mirotic led the Bulls with a career-high 35 points. Mirotic was 10-for-17, including 9-for-13 from three-point range. The nine three-pointers tied a team record reached twice by Ben Gordon in 2006.
The defeat left the Bulls one game behind the Pistons, who beat the Magic 118-102, in the chase for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
‘‘I told our guys they have two choices,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said. ‘‘They can tuck their tails between their legs and walk out of here with their heads down. Or they can tough it out, suck it up and find a way to win tomorrow and finish this out the right way.’’
With only 12 games left, Hoiberg was at a loss to explain the Bulls’ lack of urgency.
‘‘I don’t get it,’’ Hoiberg said. ‘‘With this amount of time left, we came out with that amount of energy.’’
The Knicks outrebounded the Bulls 53-34.
They have a great building block in 7-3 Kristaps Porzingis. The Bulls’ porous defense was no match for the skilled 20-year-old Latvian, who tied his career high of 29 points and shot 11-for-16 from the field, including 3-for-6 on three-pointers.
The Bulls’ top two scorers, Butler and Pau Gasol, were a combined 5-for-18. Gasol, who played 25 minutes, again was on a minutes limit in his second game back from a four-game absence with a swollen knee.
But it was the Bulls’ defense that set up the disaster.
‘‘That was the game,’’ Hoiberg said. ‘‘We talked about making them go to Option B and Option C all night, but we lacked the defensive activity out there. They won every loose ball.’’
After falling behind 101-79, the Bulls tried to get back in the game, led by Mirotic. But it was too little, too late.
‘‘They played a lot harder than us,’’ Taj Gibson said. ‘‘It’s real disappointing. We put more pressure on ourselves. We had a chance to help ourselves in the playoff race.’’
Butler will turn his game around, Gibson said.
‘‘Everybody goes through this,’’ Gibson said. ‘‘I told him, ‘Don’t worry.’ He just has to work his way out of it and he’ll be fine.’’
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