Forward Bobby Portis wasted no time making a difference in his return from a sprained right ankle Sunday.
But his burst of energy was not enough to rescue the Bulls from their fourth defeat in a row.
They lost 117-100 to the Nets and were outscored 62-45 in the second half.
It was the 30th loss in 40 games for the Bulls.
“We’ve got to play better defense,” coach Jim Boylen said. “We lost the game because our defense was poor. They made shots. They got to where they wanted to get to, and they made shots. We can’t give up 117 at home. I’m disappointed in that.”
Portis’ return offered a bright spot in an otherwise sloppy game.
Boylen announced before the game that Portis would be restricted to 20 minutes in his first action since Dec. 19, and he stayed true to his word by limiting him to 19:42. In that span, Portis scored 17 points on 6-for-11 shooting, including 3-for-4 from three-point range.
Portis had 15 points before the break and displayed his aggressive style as he dived out of bounds for a loose ball in the third quarter.
“We need his energy, his juice, his passion,” Boylen said. “[The word] ‘Bulls’ across his chest means a lot. We’re thankful he’s back.”
So is Portis.
“I feel good,” Portis said. “I was trying to get my timing back a little bit. It’s always fun to play the game, like I always say, going out there and trying to help my team as much as possible. But our team needed the win.”
Injuries have limited Portis to 10 games, and he acknowledged that he needed to readjust to live action.
“It was OK,” Portis said. “As time went on, I kind of got a little tired, but I think that just comes with playing games and finding a rhythm.”
Guard Zach LaVine led the Bulls with 27 points on 11-for-17 shooting. He made both of his three-pointers.
Boylen praised LaVine’s decision-making and said he hoped to see him continue to attack the rim.
“He got 27 points on two threes,” Boylen said. “To me, that’s who he’s got to be. Drive that ball and attack, attack, and hopefully we can get some free throws as we go forward for him. But I love that — 27 on two threes. That’s who I want him to be — a driver and an aggressive, downhill guy.”
LaVine was happy with his performance on offense but said everyone needed to be more rugged as a unit.
“Overall, we’ve got to be a tougher team,” he said. “We have tough players, but as a team, we’ve got to be a lot tougher. That’s the main thing I’m seeing: We’re not imposing our will when we can. Other teams will see that, and they’re going to start just going at you.”
Boylen said poor communication caused the Bulls to miss switches and other defensive assignments.
“Some nights, we’ve been terrific defensively,” Boylen said. “We lost a real good defender in the trade [that sent Justin Holiday to the Grizzlies], and everybody’s got to take up the slack on that.”
Next up is a five-game trip against Western Conference opponents, beginning Wednesday night in Portland.
“We’re going west, and it’s a totally different place,” LaVine said. “Especially the first game, we’ve got the two-headed monster out there with C.J. [McCollum] and [Damian Lillard]. They’re going to be attacking. We have to be prepared for that.”