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Defense, intensity and turnovers turn into issues for Chicago

Many of the issues that befuddled the Chicago Bulls on Sunday night were encompassed within a 30-second span midway through the fourth quarter.

Despite trailing by as many as 15 points to the Trail Blazers, Chicago rallied to tie the game.

But soon after that, Portland forward Nicolas Batum knocked down his team's ninth 3-pointer, which helped rebuild the lead to five. Then, on the Bulls' ensuing possession, an ill-advised pass by guard Kirk Hinrich resulted in a turnover and a momentum-grabbing transition basket for the Blazers.

Portland went on to win 102-94 at the Rose Garden, leaving the Bulls reeling with regret.

“The defense, the rebounding and the turnovers — all three are a problem right now,” Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Those three things put you in position to win.”

But at one point or another, all three have been detrimental during Chicago's five losses over its last eight games. And Sunday was no exception.

The Bulls' defense surrendered more than 100 points for the fourth consecutive game, and six Blazer players scored in double figures for the first time this season.

The missing presence on defense, though, is only a recent issue for Chicago, which entered Sunday ranked eighth in the NBA in opponents' points per game (93.3) and fifth in opponents' 3-point percentage (32 percent).

But Chicago allowed the Blazers to go 9 of 22 (40.9 percent) from beyond the arc, and the Bulls recognized that they have issues.

“We have to play harder on defense,” said center Joakim Noah, who finished with 16 points, 15 boards and eight assists. “We're not playing very well defensively.”

Thibodeau said Chicago has to find both its defense and its intensity.

“Your concentration, your preparation and your effort is what gives you intensity," he said. "So if you're not playing hard enough, you go back to those three things.”

Turnovers also have been problematic during the Bulls' skid. After 15 giveaways on Sunday, Chicago has averaged 15.4 turnovers in its last five games.

And, while trying to ignore a raucous Rose Garden crowd fueled by Batum's crucial 3-pointer in the fourth quarter, Hinrich became a prime example of Chicago's turnover troubles.

Blazers forward Sasha Pavlovic intercepted Hinrich's poor pass, took the ball in transition and dished to Ronnie Price, who finished the play, putting Portland ahead 81-73 with 8:32 left.

“When we get in trouble is when we start dancing or we thread the needle,” Thibodeau said. “So we have the clean that up.”

The Bulls have been creating their own mess, and on Sunday much of it came in the second quarter. They were held to 13 points, the fewest Portland has allowed to an opponent in any quarter this season. The Bulls turned over the ball seven times and trailed 51-43 heading into the half.

“We gave ourselves a chance, but we dug such a big hole in the second quarter, again, it was too much to get out of,” Thibodeau said.

One area Chicago's coach was pleased with was the defensive effort of Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson off the bench, paired with Luol Deng, Hinrich and Noah, five players who helped hold the Blazers to 22 points in the third quarter.

Absent from that mix, though, was star forward Carlos Boozer, who was held to four points and three boards. He was also on the bench when the Bulls were fighting for a victory in the fourth quarter.

But outside of the five players Thibodeau was able to rely on, Chicago's weaknesses were obvious.

“You're not going to win on the road," Thibodeau said, "with the approach that we have right now.”