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Bulls’ weak defense exploited in loss to Magic

Derrick Rose returned Monday night, but the Bulls’ defense left the building.

Behind a season-high 63-point first half, the Orlando Magic continued to raise questions about the direction the Bulls are heading in defensively, beating them 121-114 at the United Center.

But it’s not just the defensive lapses. The Bulls seem to coast against competition they perceive as beatable, especially in the first quarter.

The 14-27 Magic fit that description perfectly, coming in on a six-game losing streak, and the Bulls (26-13) accommodated them.

“The way we’re playing is bothersome and concerning,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said.

“You get into things together, and we have to get out of things together. The challenge is to get ourselves right and to get ready. It’s an unforgiving league. The games keep coming. We know what we have to do to straighten it out. We have to do it together.’’

It was the third loss in the last four games for the Bulls, and, coincidentally, the one game they did win — Saturday against the Bucks — came with Rose out with a sore left knee.

This loss can’t be pinned on Rose, however, who came out in attack mode and had six points on 3-for-5 shooting in the first quarter. Rose did have a bad turnover late, but he finished with 18 points, shot 8-for-15 from the field and had seven assists.

There were questions about Rose even playing leading into the game, but he downplayed the speculation, saying it’s soreness he has experienced before and likely will experience again.

“You think about it, it’s not out of the norm,’’ Rose said. “Having two knee surgeries, it’s just some type of soreness that came up in the Washington game [Friday], and it held me back a game.

‘‘If it was something that was lingering or I felt it the entire time along that stretch, that 15-game, 20-game stretch, I would have been very worried about it, but I didn’t feel it until after the Washington game.

“I know exactly what it is. I know how to warm up my body. I think I’ve become a great pro. And having two knee injuries, you learn how to take care of your body. I think I’m doing a great job with it.’’

Of the Bulls’ 13 losses, seven are against teams below .500, and five have come at the United Center.

Pau Gasol again carried the team with 28 points, but Joakim Noah only had six points. Taj Gibson came off the bench for nine points.

“Every aspect,’’ Thibodeau said of the Bulls’ defensive problems. “We’ve got to decide what we’ve got to be.

‘‘If we’re going to just try to outscore people, we’re not going anywhere.

“You can’t talk about it. You have to do it. The one thing I know is, when you practice well, you play well. Hey, we’re not sharp right now. Win one, lose one. .   It’s gotta be all of us. We’ve got to decide what we want to be.’’

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com
Twitter: @suntimes_hoops