CHICAGO -- Unlike so much of this snuffed-candle season, the opportunities were endless Monday night at the United Center for the Bulls.
With a victory, they could've posted their first six-game winning streak since March 4, 2012. They could've evened their record for the first time since sitting at 7-7 on Nov. 27.
They could've remained unbeaten in 2014 and continued the momentum on this portion of the schedule, which features games against eight straight sub-.500 teams and 10 of 11.
Instead, the Bulls treated defense and taking care of the ball as if both were infectious diseases and never led in a 102-88 loss to the Wizards. Cue the somber sound bites again as the Bulls lost for the first time in the post-Luol Deng era.
"We didn't play well," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "I didn't coach well."
John Wall and Nene each scored 19 points to lead six Wizards in double figures. Wall added seven assists and five rebounds.
Defense was the foundation of the five-game winning streak and defense is what failed the Bulls on Monday. After allowing just 84.4 points on 38.9 percent shooting in the streak, the Bulls allowed the Wizards to shoot 52 percent.
The Bulls are 0-8 when allowing 100 or more points and 0-6 when allowing their opponent to shoot 50 percent or better. Washington also scored 18 points off the Bulls' 22 turnovers.
"I didn't think we had an edge," Thibodeau said. "We have to come out with a very high intensity to have a chance to win."
Indeed, the Bulls allowed the Wizards to score the game's first eight points before Thibodeau even barked at an official. Later, they reverted to a season-long habit of surrendering critical 3-pointers at inopportune times.
After trailing by as many as 15, the Bulls could've pulled within four in the third quarter. But Carlos Boozer missed a bunny and the Bulls allowed back-to-back 3-pointers by Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster.
When Garrett Temple banked home another 3-pointer to beat the third-quarter buzzer, the Bulls' deficit had grown back to 10 points.
"It seemed like every time we kind of made a run, they hit a big 3," Taj Gibson said.
Jimmy Butler returned from missing one game with a sore left thigh, but the Bulls lost Nazr Mohammed to a sprained left middle finger that he said afterward is fine. Butler scored 12 points in 38 minutes for the Bulls, who were led by Boozer's 19 points. Joakim Noah grabbed 16 rebounds.
Thibodeau said issues began at the morning shootaround, when he didn't clearly convey his message of needed intensity.
"We could've been a lot more focused," Gibson said. "Games like this are kind of like a wake-up call. It humbles you. Right when you're feeling too good about yourself and feeling invincible, a team comes in and smacks you and wakes you up to reality."
The Bulls have faced plenty of that this season.
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