- Jon Greenberg, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Mike Dunleavy did it.
With the game ending, he unleashed a half-court 3-pointer that sailed out of his hands before the shot clock turned red and landed through the net.
Pandemonium at the United Center, right? Not quite.
The Bulls still lost to Orlando 83-82. But here's the silver lining: At least they broke 80.
In four of their previous five games, they failed to do that.
Moral victories, folks.
The joke around the Bulls is that they should start giving away Big Macs when they score 80 instead of when they score 100. I probably heard that 20 times Monday night in a listless, defeated United Center, where everyone but Tom Thibodeau and Benny the Bull are counting down until the season is over.
It's going to be a very long, very cold season unless things change dramatically.
While last year was a naive countdown until Rose's return, this season looks like a faithless march until April, when the Bulls can hibernate for the summer and wait for another shot with their erstwhile MVP.
It's time to adjust those expectations, Chicago. Sure, this team could still make the playoffs, maybe win 41 games. These are proud, tough players.
But given this team's history of injuries and the added mental fatigue of another season of missed expectations, this could also be a lottery team.
You can see that the old Bulls aren't coming to play every night.
Forget those gauzy memories of the Bulls hustling to 45 wins last year. That team prepared itself to play without Rose. This group still looks shell-shocked after losing him to another knee injury.
Chicago has lost nine of 12 since Rose tore his medial meniscus in Portland and turned another season into a moot exercise in semantics.
It's not like the Bulls are losing to great teams, either. Since Rose went out, they've lost to Utah, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Toronto, New York and now the 8-17 Magic.
"It's tough," Taj Gibson said. "We're losing to teams we supposed be beating. That's the way I feel."
In that span, they've averaged 89 points a game -- 85 a game if you throw out that 131-128 triple-overtime loss to New Orleans.
I asked a scout at the game to describe how bad the Bulls' offense is right now, and he said, "'Uncanny' is a word I'd use."
And that was before Luol Deng missed a game-tying layup.
As much as I love propagating the idea of ThibsBall as a way of life, Thibodeau isn't a magician. He's not a miracle worker. He's just a very prepared, crazily intense basketball coach. And the only way he knows to address this problem is to work harder in practice.
"It's my job is to make sure we're ready to make our layups," he said. "We obviously have to work harder in practice on taking layups and making layups and doing them at a game-like speed. So I'm going to put more into that. That part is on me."
Motivational Thibs is a good Thibs, but even Thibs has his limits.
"We're the guys out there on the court," Gibson said. "There's only so much he can do. He can try to motivate us, he can try to yell at us, we've just got to do better."
Against the Magic, with Glen Davis and Nikola Vucevic, the Bulls went 12-for-34 in the paint -- a miserable 35 percent. They only hit 5 of 18 3-pointers, so it's safe to say the inside-outside game wasn't clicking.
Deng, who led the team with 26 points, missed the most important layup of the game. With 2.9 seconds left, he made the pass out of a timeout and then took a perfect bounce pass from Noah on the baseline and -- just missed. I hate to say he didn't take it hard to the basket, because it's Luol Deng. Maybe it's just part of losing. When things are going good, Deng makes that shot. This time he left it short.
"I missed it," a very terse Deng said after the game. "I had a good angle. It was a great pass by Jo; I knew I missed it when it left my hand. Just a bad, bad miss. It was my fault."
With Kirk Hinrich out (back stiffness), the newly signed Augustin played 37 minutes off the bench in relief of Marquis Teague, who really needs that aborted D-League assignment. Augustin, who scored 14, missed 10 of 15 shots, but Thibodeau liked the aggressiveness from the rejected lottery pick. Augustin could be this year's Nate Robinson, but as a playmaker, not a pure scorer.
The same scout who couldn't believe how bad the Bulls offense is thinks the Bulls will improve in a couple of weeks when Augustin gets comfortable.
But even without the great Augustin, this group should be good enough to score more than 80 points a game.
"We've got to better job scoring the ball," Noah said. "Guys are playing hard, giving everything they got. We just got to find a better way of putting the ball in the hole. Everything seems to be hard right now.
"Nobody has all the answers. I just know our spacing is terrible right now. We're not getting any easy baskets."
Thibodeau knows some answers, and it's not just spacing. He has a litany of complaints, and they all have to do with little details.
"If you're asked to set a screen, take your screen to the man," he said. "If you're asked to cut, finish your cut to the basket and finish your cut. Keep the ball moving. If you're asked to set three screens, set three, don't set two. Set three. If the ball goes into the post, get down to the baseline, get outside the hash, help your team. Don't get wrapped up in any personal dilemmas. If you're not shooting the ball well, there are a lot of other things you can do to help your team win, and that's all anybody should be thinking about."
Don't worry, Thibodeau still thinks the Bulls have more than enough to win. In his world, they just need to toughen up.
"We've got to have the toughness to get through tough times," Thibodeau said. "The ability to pick yourself up, not to hang your head, to keep fighting. Fight the good fight, that's what we've got to do."
I respect his opinion. I'm just not sure he's right this time. After three years of setting the standards for regular-season success and intensity, the Bulls just might be a bad team.
The way things are going, Bulls fans might be the ones who need medically cleared to watch this team.
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