Bulls’ loss to Hawks threatens their hold on home-court advantage in play-in

One step forward, 10 steps back.

Despite momentum-shifting wins this season, the Bulls have continued to find ways to give it back with critical losses, including a 113-101 misfire against the Hawks on Monday night at the United Center that brought the Hawks within half a game of the Bulls’ No. 9 spot in the standings.

The defeat negated the good feelings of a hard-fought win in Minnesota on Sunday.

“Back-to-backs are always challenging,” coach Billy Donovan said. “It’s part of it. Everyone has to deal with them. We do have a little bit of a break here, and recovery will be important for us.”

The Bulls (36-40) came out strong, jumping out to an 11-0 lead. But by the end of the first quarter, they were trailing the 10th-place Hawks (35-40) by two, and they went into halftime trailing by eight.

After exchanging leads briefly to open the second quarter, the Bulls never got back in front. They shot 39.4% from the field and 25% from three-point range. The Hawks shot 50% from the field and went 19-for-40 (47.5%) from three-point range.

“Some of the threes were a byproduct of the battles at the point of the screens offensively and defensively,” Donovan said. “On both ends of the floor, [the Hawks] won those battles in a lot of ways. They shot the ball exceptionally, as well. You give them credit for that. We didn’t shoot the ball nearly as well, and certainly we didn’t generate nearly as many threes. . . . It’s more the corner threes for me that we have to be better at.”

Forward DeMar DeRozan finished with a game-high 31 points, five assists and two steals. Twelve of his points came in the final 12 minutes. But aside from his typical late-game performance, the second half lacked the energy Donovan had gushed about the Bulls having in Minnesota. That, combined with poor shooting, made for a long night.

“I don’t think we played that bad,” DeRozan said. “We just missed a lot of shots, and they were extremely hot. Obviously, in a game that means something, whether we’re going to be home or away, we have to remember this.”

Six Hawks finished in double figures, including guard Bogdan Bogdanovic with a team-high 20 points.

Meanwhile, Bulls guard Coby White’s decline since the All-Star break continued. After shooting 46.3% from the field and 39.7% from three-point range to start the season, he was shooting 39.1% from the field and 34.4% from three in the 17 games entering Monday. Against the Hawks, he scored 22 points but shot 8-for-21 (38%) from the field and 2-for-7 (28.5%) from three.

The Hawks face the Nuggets, Timberwolves and Mavericks in their seven remaining games. The Bulls have six left, including against the lowly Wizards and Pistons.

“Certainly on the back end, it’s going to be more challenging because I think we play six games in 10 days,” Donovan said. “Then we still have one more back-to-back before the season closes out.”

Despite the loss, the Bulls did clinch a play-in spot with the Nets’ loss to the Pacers. With that spot secured, will rest be a priority for DeRozan, who’s averaging the second-most minutes of his career?

“I don’t believe that,” he said. “I just believe all in until it’s all said and done. You can’t baby it from here on out, especially me. I want to go all in, go all out, whatever the circumstances, whatever is called for.”

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