Thus far, the only victim of the Bulls' abysmal start has been the won-lost record.
Monday night at the United Center, the bumbling and stumbling claimed Kirk Hinrich and Tyrus Thomas.
Coach Scott Skiles benched those two starters to open the second half of a dreadful 103-98 loss to the Mavericks, completely snuffing any momentum the Bulls had built with back-to-back victories.
So much for making a statement to open a week that includes games with Eastern Conference powerhouses Detroit and Boston.
"I was trying to mix it up and find something that could work," Skiles said. "I've changed the lineup once, but I've tried to stay consistent. We've discussed all combinations of lineups and off-the-bench people. We'll see where we are moving forward."
The Bulls shot 34.5 percent and, given the across-the-board struggles, Hinrich and Thomas could have had some company on the bench.
Luol Deng missed his first nine shots, was outscored by Josh Howard 21-0 by halftime and didn't score until 4 minutes 50 seconds remained in the third quarter. Deng finished 3-for-13 and failed to reach double figures for the third time this season after failing to do so just four times all of last season.
"It was tough," Deng said.
Ben Gordon followed up his 34-point outing with 4-for-16 shooting and, along with Deng and Hinrich, got pulled early in the first quarter.
"We're going to stay together no matter what happens," Gordon said.
Hinrich responded to his benching by scoring 14 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter after shooting 1-for-9 through three quarters. He finished 5-for-16.
"I wasn't that surprised," Hinrich said of his benching. "The situation speaks for itself. We weren't playing well and [Skiles] wanted to mix it up, I guess. I'm just trying to stay with it and keep playing."
The Bulls, lost defensively as they fell behind by as many as 16, at least did that and somehow were within 95-90 when Deng scored on a three-point play with 65 seconds remaining. But Deng fouled out while fouling Howard with 55.4 seconds remaining and Howard, who led the Mavericks with 27 points, made both free throws.
Andres Nocioni, who led all scorers with 30 points, scored on a driving layup.
But Jason Terry, who scored 15 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, swished a fallaway jumper with 20.2 seconds left. Gordon drained a three-pointer preceding two free throws by Brandon Bass.
Then Bass, inexplicably, fouled Nocioni on a three-point attempt with 11.6 seconds to play. Nocioni made all three free throws to make it 101-98. Terry then sealed matters by sinking two free throws with 9.7 seconds remaining.
"We're trying to shoot reverse layups when we could just go in and attempt to dunk the ball," Skiles said. "Defensively, it was like we hadn't prepared at all. We were very sleepy out there."
Perhaps the benchings—Joakim Noah replaced Thomas and Chris Duhon took over for Hinrich—will serve as a wake-up call. Skiles was non-committal when asked if Hinrich could benefit from a stretch of coming off the bench.
"We have to snap out of it," Hinrich said. "We have a tough stretch coming up. We can't let this shake us. The challenge is to stay mentally tough as a team."
Mavericks 103, Bulls 98
Benched Hinrich tries to be upbeat
Guard joins Thomas on bench but gets better in 4th quarter
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