Sluggish Bulls fall to Bucks 110-96 for fourth straight loss without Kris Dunn

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Bulls guard Zach LaVine (8) battles Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) in the first half at the United Center. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The Bulls aren’t the same team without injured point guard Kris Dunn, and coach Fred Hoiberg knows it. When the subject comes up, he doesn’t even qualify it with, “You don’t want to make excuses, but …” It’s a full-fledged excuse for the Bulls’ recent downturn.

“We miss him; there’s no doubt about that,” Hoiberg said. “We’re a much better team when we get the ball up the floor quickly, and Kris Dunn is our best pace guard. We can create things early in possessions, and we’re missing that right now in a big way.”

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But enough is enough. After another sluggish start and overall inefficient and disjointed offensive performance in a 110-96 loss to the Bucks on Sunday before a sellout crowd of 21,630 at the United Center, Hoiberg changed the focus of the Bulls’ four-game losing streak to his active players— and their lack of energy, urgency and focus. Dunn, out with a concussion, is missed. But one player shouldn’t make that much of a difference in the team’s overall performance.

“We’re going to have a heluva practice [Monday],” Hoiberg said with a purpose when asked about the lack of urgency at the start of the game. “We’re going to have a training-camp type practice [Monday]. We’ve got to get our competitive edge back. We’ve got to get our sprit back. We’re going to go like hell [Monday] and hopefully get some of that back.”

The onus is on the starting five after the Bulls fell behind midway through the first quarter and never recovered. After falling behind 43-33 on Khris Middleton’s 20-footer with 5:17 left in the first half, the Bulls never cut the deficit to single digits.

Starters Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Justin Holiday, Robin Lopez and Jerian Grant combined for 15 points on 6-of-25 shooting (24.0 percent) in the first half as the Bulls fell behind 61-42. Markannen (17 points, 10 rebounds), Grant (15 points, five assists) and Holiday (12 points, three steals) finished with decent numbers, but the Bulls barely stayed within striking distance in the second half — no closer than 13 points.

Denzel Valentine scored 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting — including 16 points in the first half —to lead the Bulls. LaVine missed his first nine shots and scored six points on 2-of-11 shooting. Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo missed six of his first seven shots, but once he got going it was all over. Antetokounmpo hit 10 of his last 12 shots and finished with a game-high 27 points as the Bucks (26-22) improved to 3-0 under interim coach Joe Prunty, who replaced the fired Jason Kidd last week.

The Bulls have lost four of five games since Dunn suffered the concussion.

“Obviously losing Dunn affects us,” Holiday said. “But these are games we should win. I don’t like to make excuses. We have guys on the floor who can do the job.”

A developing team like the Bulls that has so much to prove depends on its energy. They should play like their hair’s on fire every game. Right?

“You would think so. But we’re human, man,” Holiday said. “I would love for us to be energetic, flying around all the time. But it doesn’t happen all the time. But we still have to find a way. Being a young team, that’s what we’re here to learn —how we can get some type of juice for those games when we’re not really feeling it.”

Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

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