To a man, the Bulls swear this seven-game trip will be better.
No more six-game losing streaks, no more embarrassing headband incidents.
The team that took the Staples Center court Wednesday night without Ben Wallace is more confident and cohesive than the one that stumbled and bumbled its way to a 1-6 trip in November.
But that didn't stop the Bulls from fading down the stretch and starting with a clunker in a 110-98 loss to the Clippers.
Clawing back from a 16-point deficit, the Bulls pulled even at 94-94 only to surrender a 12-0 run amid poor shot selection, bad defense and a flagrant foul by Kirk Hinrich.
"Anytime we got close, we had tremendous difficulty coming up with anything," coach Scott Skiles said. "If you want to win on the road and you're trying to come back, you have to make plays in those moments."
Hinrich, who led the Bulls with 25 points and 10 assists, scored with 3 minutes, 51 seconds remaining to create the game's sixth and final tie.
Elton Brand, who led the Clippers with 26 points, followed with two free throws. Then came a Ben Gordon turnover, a wild shot by P.J. Brown, a Hinrich miss, a shot clock violation, another Gordon turnover, a Malik Allen miss, a Chris Duhon miss, another Hinrich miss and, finally, an Andres Nocioni miss.
Meanwhile, Shaun Livingston scored on a layup and started a four-point possession with a steal from Gordon and two free throws after Hinrich got called for a flagrant with 2:05 remaining. Brand took advantage of the extra possession by draining a 12-foot baseline jumper.
The Bulls went scoreless for 3:09 at the game's most critical time.
"We were very careless with the ball again," Skiles said of the team's 18 turnovers. "We didn't play very well."
Former Bull Tim Thomas added 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Clippers, who enjoyed a 39-19 edge in free-throw attempts.
Gordon, who has been so dominant this month, scored 17 points on 5-of-15 shooting with five turnovers.
"I probably left him out there too long," Skiles said. "I just kept going to him because we do that. But it was a poor defensive game on his part and he had trouble handling and shooting the ball. It was just one of those games. He was due. He had been on an unbelievable streak."
Said Gordon: "You're going to have nights like that. You just have to fight through. We had a lot of chances. I had some terrible turnovers down the stretch that really hurt us."
Like the infamous Nov. 25 night at Madison Square Garden, Wallace again didn't wear the proper uniform. But this time it was because he succumbed to the bruised tendon in his left knee and wore street clothes rather than flaunting team rules by accessorizing with cotton fabric around his head.
Team chemistry isn't the only area where the Bulls have made progress. The team that lost its first six games on the November trip then floundered in the mid-20s in opponents' field-goal percentage. Entering the Clippers' game, the Bulls ranked second.
This defensive prowess is why the Bulls believe they better can weather the hardships of a seven-game trip against just two teams with winning records entering Wednesday night. With their victory, the Clippers moved one game above .500.
"I definitely feel like we're a better team than what we were in November," Brown said. "We're more comfortable with each other. We understand each others' games better. We understand our system, both offensively and defensively.
Bulls drop first game of road trip
With injured Wallace on bench, 7-game odyssey starts same way November one did
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