DEERFIELD, Ill. (AP) — A year ago, the Chicago Bulls were piling up wins and building momentum that carried them into the playoffs and an epic showdown with the Celtics.
Now? It's losses that are piling up, along with injuries.
If the season ended now, the Bulls would be out of the playoffs. At 31-32 and with five straight losses, the Bulls were ninth in the Eastern Conference and trying to orchestrate another turn in a season that has seen no shortage of them.
From the slow start and speculation about the coach's job status to a mini resurgence to the recent struggles and injuries to key players such as center Joakim Noah and now Luol Deng, it's easy to see why coach Vinny Del Negro used the word "interesting" to describe it all on Wednesday.
Difficult might be appropriate, too.
The Bulls will have a tough time duplicating what they did around this time last season, when they went on a run in mid-March that took them to that thrilling first-round playoff series with Boston. They're in the middle of a brutal nine-game stretch against contenders and are fading after winning eight of 10 against mostly lighter competition.
Help could come in the offseason, when the Bulls will have enough room to offer a maximum contract in a star-studded free agent market, but visions of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh possibly in Chicago probably do little for Del Negro, considering he might not be around to coach them.
"Right now, everybody's thinking about winning games," All-Star point guard Derrick Rose said. "That's the biggest thing — trying to move up and win games and waiting for Joakim and Luol to come back because we need them."
Del Negro's job security, Rose said, is not on the players' minds. For the record, though, the coach has at least one backer.
Rose called the former guard "a good guy" and credited Del Negro for his development, saying, "He's been helping me a lot — letting me watch video with him, talking to him, having a lot meetings, asking me what we should do about our offense, working just to better my game."
A more pressing issue for Del Negro is what to do about the Bulls right now.
They're missing their leading rebounder and inside defender in Noah, who's out with plantar fasciitis in his left foot. Deng, their second-leading scorer, sat out a game last week because of swelling in his left knee and will likely miss the next two at Orlando and Miami because of a strained right calf.
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