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Bulls' mistakes outweigh strong effort once again

Chicago BullsMike MillerAaron GrayKirk HinrichBen GordonLuol DengThabo Sefolosha

As Kevin McHale exited his postgame news conference, the Timberwolves coach spotted an old friend standing with a young kid.

McHale hugged the kid, leaned down and said, "How in the world did we win that game?"

The reeling Bulls were asking a similar question: How in the world did we lose that game?

Poor late-game execution once again doomed the Bulls, whose season-long losing streak extended to five games after a 109-108 overtime loss to the Timberwolves.

Leading by as many as 16 in the first quarter and shooting 57.6 percent through three quarters, the Bulls collapsed down the stretch by shooting 8-for-29.

Randy Foye, 1-for-10 to that point, scored on a driving layup with 41.3 seconds remaining in overtime to provide the final points. Making the basket worse, Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro had employed his "offense-defense" substitution, replacing Ben Gordon and Derrick Rose with better defenders Kirk Hinrich and Thabo Sefolosha for that possession.

Gordon and Rose returned on the ensuing possession, and Gordon missed a 19-foot jumper.

After Mike Miller missed a three-pointer with 13.9 seconds left, the Bulls called a 20-second timeout to set up Rose. But Rose gave up his dribble in the lane, watched his nine-foot jumper miss and then Aaron Gray's tip also rolled off.

"We've worked on him keeping his dribble, but I thought they guarded pretty well," Del Negro said.

Even worse was the Bulls' final possession of regulation. After Al Jefferson tipped in his own miss to tie the game at 97-97, the Bulls called a timeout to set up. Starting with 23.9 seconds left, Rose dribbled up top, appearing to wait for a screen, although Del Negro later said the play didn't call for one. Gordon flared off the ball, but Rose had to force an off-balance 17-footer with 0.7 seconds left.

"I thought Derrick waited a little too long to attack," Del Negro said. "He had to force something up. The execution isn't what it should've been."

Jefferson burned a steady diet of double-teams to the tune of 39 points. Joakim Noah tallied 14 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high seven blocks and still shook his head afterward.

"I don't even know what to say," Noah said. "I was playing as hard as I could. He just kept scoring. He's just a great offensive player and we couldn't slow him down."

Del Negro allowed that the double-teams probably could've come more quickly. Hinrich, possibly the team's best help defender, played just 6:09 in the second half and 23 seconds in overtime.

All five starters reached double figures for the Bulls, who dropped to 5-17 on the road and have six straight road games coming. Gordon scored 23 and Luol Deng 22.

"We played hard," Deng said. "We need to play smarter."

kcjohnson@tribune.com

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