In addition to Derrick Rose's season-long absence, the Chicago Bulls are dealing with several other key injuries.
They, however, know that's no excuse for their recent lackluster play.
Hoping to avoid its first three-game skid in four months, Chicago tries for a fifth straight win over a slumping Utah Jazz team that is hoping to have Al Jefferson back Friday night at the United Center.
While the Bulls (34-27) concluded January with a 1 1/2-game lead over Indiana in the Central Division, they've since dropped 10 of 16 to fall four games behind the Pacers. Kirk Hinrich has missed 12 of those contests, including the last two due to a foot injury. Taj Gibson (sprained MCL) has sat out the last five and Richard Hamilton (back) the last four. Rose, meanwhile, is listed as day-to-day but doesn't appear ready to return from a torn ACL.
Gibson is roughly a week away from getting back on the court. Hinrich and Hamilton are uncertain to suit up Friday.
"Our main focus is how good can we be with what we have in here and when we have Kirk healthy and Taj healthy and Rip healthy, I think we can play with anyone," said Luol Deng, averaging just 13.5 points on 38.9 percent shooting over the last four games. "We all believe that."
Three nights after falling 97-92 at Indiana, the Bulls couldn't keep up in Wednesday's 101-83 loss at San Antonio. Marco Belinelli, who had 20 points against the Pacers, scored 21 and Deng added 19, but Chicago shot just 36.7 percent. The depleted Bulls had 31 points on 30.2 percent shooting after halftime and are on the verge of losing three straight games for the first time since Nov. 17-21.
"We've got to get guys healthy," Joakim Noah told the team's official website. "You can't play this game not healthy. We've got injuries - it's no excuse. We've got to stick together and keep fighting. It's frustrating because the potential is there."
The Bulls, third in the league with 91.4 points allowed per game, were outscored 46-22 in the paint and allowed the Spurs to shoot 54.1 percent.
"We've got to be more competitive," said coach Tom Thibodeau, whose team has lost eight straight when allowing at least 90 points. "We've got to get things done defensively."
The Bulls have taken six of eight home matchups against the Jazz (32-29), including the last two by an average of 16.0 points. Rose, though, scored a combined 50 in those games.
Chicago also pulled out a 93-89 victory at Utah on Feb. 8, overcoming Hinrich's absence and 32 points and 13 boards from Jefferson.
The formidable big man, averaging team highs of 17.7 points and 9.4 rebounds, has missed the last three games due to sprained left ankle. Averaging 26.8 points and 11.8 boards over the last four meetings versus Chicago, Jefferson is expected to be a game-time decision.
The Jazz are coming off their fifth loss in six games, 104-101 at Cleveland on Wednesday. Gordon Hayward had 25 points and a season-high seven assists but Utah blew a 12-point lead with just over seven minutes remaining.
Three of the Jazz's last four defeats have come by three points or fewer, with two going to overtime.
"These are tough losses," coach Tyrone Corbin said. "You don't want to minimize that. They are games we felt we should have won. Closing games down, especially without Al out there, we're so used to going to him to close the games for us and he's not there.
"We've got to find a way to get better."
Mo Williams had eight points on 3-of-12 shooting and six assists in his return following a 32-game absence due to a thumb injury.
The Bulls will need to be wary of Enes Kanter, who's averaged 19.3 points on 69.4 percent shooting and 13.0 boards during Jefferson's absence.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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