The Chicago Bulls hope to display some respectability on their five-game road trip, which concludes Saturday night with the start of a home-and-home set against the Central Division-rival Milwaukee Bucks at the Bradley Center.
The Bulls opened the trek with a win at Phoenix, but have since dropped three in a row, including Wednesday's 93-89 setback at Houston. Nate Robinson posted 13 of his season-high 21 points in the fourth quarter and Carlos Boozer finished with 13 points and 15 rebounds for the Bulls, losers in four of their last five games.
"Our defense is not what it used to be," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "It's not what it was last year that's for sure. We have to do better. Losing three in a row is unacceptable. We're better than that."
Chicago dropped its third straight game in the regular season for the first time under coach Tom Thibodeau.
"Obviously, you hate the losing part of it. I'm more concerned with us doing things the right way and focusing in on our improvement. ... We can't pick and choose," Thibodeau said. "We have to be tied together the entire time. We can't do the easy thing. We have to do the tough thing."
Luol Deng scored 19 points in a losing effort and has led the team in scoring a team-high four times. Boozer has three double-doubles in his last four games, averaging 16.8 points and 11.0 boards in that span.
Chicago is still playing without injured All-Star guard Derrick Rose (knee) and will start a four-game homestand Monday versus the Bucks, Mavericks, 76ers and Pacers.
Milwaukee, which sits atop the Central standings, has lost back-to-back games since winning three straight and was edged by the defending champion Miami Heat 113-106 in overtime on Wednesday.
The Heat outscored the Bucks by a 15-8 margin in the extra period and were led by LeBron James' 28 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. Dwyane Wade returned from a two-game absence and scored 28 points as well. James, Wade and Chris Bosh combined for 80 points.
Brandon Jennings paced Milwaukee with 19 points, seven boards, six assists and five steals, while rookie John Henson registered a double-double with 17 points and 18 rebounds. The Bucks held a 91-84 advantage with just under five minutes left in regulation, but the Heat answered with 10 straight points and eventually went on to the win. Miami scored six straight to open OT.
"We had so many rough moments in the first half and then we were able to battle back right before halftime," Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. "They played pretty hard in the second half. At 91-84 we were in good position. We had a small margin of error against that team. We kind of fell asleep on them."
The Bucks can't afford to sleep on the Bulls, who have won eight in a row in this series and four straight in Brew City. The Bulls have not won five in a row at the Bradley Center since a six-game run from 1995-96 to 1997-98, and are 12-4 versus the Bucks since Skiles was named coach prior to the 2008-09 campaign.