This was supposed to be a new beginning for the Bulls, but it ended up pretty much the same way they left off in Saturday's loss to Oklahoma City.
Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng returned to the lineup on Monday night against Portland. Deng had missed eight games with a sprained ankle, while Hinrich had been out since Nov. 7 with a torn ligament in his right thumb.
"For some reason, it feels like opening night," Deng said before the game. "Everyone's happy everybody's healthy, looking forward to getting out there and kind of feeling a little energy."
Being at full strength helped the Bulls early, when they opened a brief 11-point lead in the second quarter. But eventually the Trail Blazers blistered the nets from 3-point range and handled the Bulls 109-95 at the United Center.
Portland started the game 1-for-7 from 3-point land, then canned 10 of its next 13 attempts from long range before missing the last 3. The Bulls (16-22) were ice cold from behind the arc, hitting just 2 of 13.
"I thought we competed well, especially in that first half," Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said. "The second half we got a little bit complacent at times defensively. They broke us down, and our rotations were a little bit slow out of the double teams. You've got to give them credit; they made some shots."
Hinrich hit 2 of 5 shots for 4 points in 21 minutes. Deng went 3 of 10 from the field but was perfect at the foul line to score 14 points in 22 minutes.
Center Drew Gooden led the Bulls with 22 points, while Ben Gordon scored 17 and Derrick Rose finished with 13 points and 10 assists.
Early in the game, the Bulls did seem better off with the full lineup. They forced 11 first-half turnovers, shared the ball and scored some easy fastbreak baskets.
"It felt good, the leaders out there running the team," Rose said. "But we didn't come out with the victory. It's going to take a little time. We have some important pieces back, so we should be all right."
On a night when Portland's top scorers Brandon Roy (11 points) and LaMarcus Aldridge (8 points, 6 rebounds) were barely noticeable, the Blazers got huge contributions from unlikely sources.
Backup forward Travis Outlaw made the Bulls pay for focusing on his teammates, scoring 33 points and knocking down 4 of 5 shots from 3-point range. Point guard Steve Blake scored 16, while seldom-used rookie guard Jerryd Bayless contributed 7 points in just five minutes.
Portland (23-14) finished the first half with a 14-3 run that erased a 7-point Bulls advantage. Then the Blazers quickly built the lead to 59-48 three minutes into the second half.
Trailing by 11 entering the fourth quarter, the Bulls drew some fouls and got as close as 83-78 with 7:58 remaining. But on their next four possessions three different Blazers calmly stroked 3-point baskets to quickly send the lead soaring to 16 points.
"I don't know where (our early advantage) disappeared to," Deng said. "We came out with a lot of energy. Obviously, we started the game well. We didn't do a good job of keeping the lead."