The goals are becoming more difficult, fading in possibility with each desultory performance. If the Bulls want to reach their loudly proclaimed target of single-digit home losses, they must win their final seven games at the United Center.
This reality arrived after Tuesday night's dud of a 103-89 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, who had entered losers in seven of their last nine games.
A 50-victory season? The Bulls need to finish 11-2.
Home-court advantage? The Bulls missed on an opportunity to gain on the Cavaliers, who lost in overtime to the Bobcats, but still lead the Raptors.
That's small solace for another flat performance that comes on the heels of a bad road loss to the Grizzlies.
"You're definitely concerned when you lose two in a row to teams you think you can beat," guard Ben Gordon said.
Gordon's comment was far more on the mark than his shot, as the Bulls' leading scorer suffered through a 2 of 12 night with five turnovers.
The Bulls went cold at an inopportune time, making just 7 of 23 fourth-quarter shots. They trailed 88-84 before missing their next six shots and watching Gordon commit one of the team's 17 turnovers, going almost three minutes without a field goal.
But offense wasn't the problem.
Daniel Ewing's three-pointer over porous perimeter defense with 78 seconds remaining gave the Clippers a 93-85 lead.
Then Corey Maggette, who attacked the rim and earned 17 free-throw attempts, followed with two free throws to seal it.
Coach Scott Skiles lamented the Bulls' inability to remember that Maggette drives almost exclusively to his right.
"We had a hard time processing that," Skiles said.
That's the second straight postgame Skiles has pointed out an inability to follow the game plan, citing a similar flaw against the Grizzlies by not preventing Chucky Atkins from driving to his right side.
Are players not following game plans?
"That's a fair question," Skiles said. "There's no question there's a level of inspiration we need that we haven't reached in a while. We don't look like the same team."
Cuttino Mobley led the Clippers with 25 points. Elton Brand added 21 points and 12 rebounds.
The Clippers shot 50.8 percent, also harming the Bulls' goal of catching the Rockets for lowest opponents' field-goal percentage and leading the league in that category for the third straight season.
"We have to get back to our foundation and hang our hat on our defense," guard Kirk Hinrich said. "We haven't been playing very well lately."
Hinrich led the Bulls with 29 points, including 14 in the first quarter. Brand also came out hot, hitting his first five shots and forcing a defensive switch from P.J. Brown to Ben Wallace.
For the second time in three games, Wallace flirted with his third career triple-double. Wallace, who played all but the final 42 seconds of the second half, finished with a season-high-tying 19 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists.
Wallace didn't care, pointing to the loss.
"They played better than us and appeared to want it more than we did," Skiles said. "They were coming out of timeouts and getting whatever they wanted. We were slow again off the ball and on the weak side, our awareness wasn't great. They deserved to win."