Bulls aim to avoid rare slide vs. Celtics

The Eastern Conference-leading Chicago Bulls are picking a bad time to start slumping and hope to avoid losing three in a row for the first time in more than two years when they host the Boston Celtics.

Chicago has dropped two straight and three of five games, and its lead atop the conference standings is now two games ahead of hard-charging Miami. The Bulls suffered a 99-93 loss versus Houston on Monday, as Luol Deng scored a game-high 24 points and Richard Hamilton returned from a 14-game absence because of a shoulder injury and had six points, three assists and five turnovers.

"It was kind of like a stinger," Hamilton said about his injury. "But I was able to fight through it and still be able to play."

The playoff-bound Bulls also got 16 points and 13 rebounds from Carlos Boozer and lost consecutive games in the regular season for the first time since Feb. 5-7, 2011. They haven't dropped three in a row since a 10-game slide from Feb. 27-March 19, 2010 and may get reigning MVP Derrick Rose back tonight. Rose has missed 11 games because of a groin injury and is listed as questionable.

"His speed and quickness looked really good," Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said after watching his star practice. "It was very encouraging."

Chicago is 7-4 during Rose's current stint on the bench and will try to improve its 21-6 record as the host. The Bulls are in the midst of playing four of five games in the Windy City.

Boston looks to get back into the win column and dropped an 87-86 decision to the San Antonio Spurs last night. Paul Pierce's shot at the buzzer was off the mark and he finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds.

"This type of stuff is not really scripted, you don't have an idea of what's going to happen in those type of situations," Pierce said. "You get in those pressure situations and sometimes they work and sometimes they don't, but the thing is I'm not going to second guess my decision. I thought I got a great shot, created some space right there at the free throw line. It's just some days they fall, some days they don't."

Avery Bradley scored a team-high 19 points and Rajon Rondo had 17 points and 11 assists for the Celtics, who entered the game having won five in a row and 15 of their previous 20 games. They had an eight-game home winning streak cut short as well. Rondo has 14 straight games with at least 10 assists. That's the longest streak for any player in the NBA since Steve Nash had 10 or more assists in 14 straight games in March and April of 2005.

The Celtics still maintained their 1 1/2-game lead over Philadelphia for the Atlantic Division lead and are seeded fourth in the East. They will play eight of 11 games away from Beantown and own an 11-14 mark as the guest.

Ray Allen returned from a six-game absence because of a sore right ankle and scored five points in more than 34 minutes of action. Boston went 5-1 without Allen in the lineup.

Boston has lost two of three meetings with Chicago this season, including an 89-80 setback at the United Center back on Feb. 16. The Bulls have won four of the past five contests between the teams and are unbeaten in four straight as the host in this series.