Little man gives Bulls big trouble

Tribune staff reporter

As Friday's morning shootaround wound down, Luol Deng showed off his soccer skills by juggling basketballs with his feet, and players hoisted halfcourt shots as they traded laughs and dollars.

Despite their winless status and this ridiculous "circus trip" losing streak, the Bulls were loose.

That showed from coach Scott Skiles' pregame banter to the team's reaction when Andres Nocioni stole the ball on Denver's first possession, raced downcourt and dunked on Marcus Camby, who fouled him for a three-point play.

But when the game turned serious, the Bulls came up tight.

Denver closed the third quarter with a 12-2 run capped by Bryon Russell's three-pointer at the buzzer and pulled away in the fourth for a 99-81 victory at the Pepsi Center.

The Bulls now have dropped an astounding 35 straight games on this annual extended November trip and, at 0-7, are two losses shy of matching the worst start in franchise history.

"Guys penetrate the lane and lay the ball in the basket," Skiles said. "We don't have interior defensive presence."

Before the game, Skiles called stopping super sub Earl Boykins a key. Boykins, all 5 feet 5 inches and 133 pounds of him, led Denver with 32 points, terrorizing the Bulls with his arsenal of speed and darting moves.

"He really is an amazing player," Skiles said. "My contemporary is Spud Webb, but Boykins is a much better scorer. This guy can really get into the lane. He's so fast it's very, very difficult."

Nocioni's 22 points led the Bulls. Kirk Hinrich added 10 points and 10 assists but left with 6 minutes 46 seconds to play when he banged legs with Francisco Elson as Elson set a screen and fouled Hinrich.

Hinrich eventually limped to the locker room with a bruised right thigh and is listed as day-to-day. Hinrich said he couldn't lift his left afterward.

Perhaps for the first time since becoming coach, Skiles acknowledged there are dual goals for this youthful squad.

"Of course the main objective is to win," Skiles said. "The other objective is we have young players who we like, and I have to watch over their development."

Deng received feedback in the most direct manner possible, getting chewed out by Skiles for failing to follow a defensive assignment on Carmelo Anthony in the second quarter.

"Do what you're supposed to do," Skiles yelled from the bench.

Anthony picked up his fourth foul 2:38 into the third but still had 18 points.

Tyson Chandler got yanked 58 seconds later after he picked up a technical foul for hanging on the rim on his second dunk of the quarter.

"When you're 7 feet tall you're supposed to dunk the ball," Skiles said. "Why do you have to slap the backboard?"

Chandler, who didn't return, expressed shock at the call and the benching.

"I don't understand why I got jerked like that after making two good plays in a row," he said. "I knew I could contribute more but I was on the bench.

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