Bulls choke on the Big Apple and are once again in must-win mode

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NEW YORK – The Bulls were due for a slip-up.

But an all-out, turn blue in the face, embarrassing gag job?

That wasn’t in the plans.

Not after four straight wins leading into a Tuesday night meeting in Madison Square Garden, and against a 48-loss Knicks team that started the likes of Ron Baker, Courtney Lee, Willy Hernangomez and Maurice Ndour.

Easy, right?

As this Bulls team reminded all of us, very little comes easy for them.

Even worse, the 100-91 loss came on a night in which the Pacers battled back to beat Toronto, so like the Bulls, were 38-40 on the season with four games left to play. Because the Bulls own the tie-breaker over Indiana, they held onto the No. 7 spot in the Eastern Conference, but were just a ½ game in front of idle Miami and again in danger of missing the postseason if performances like Tuesday’s continue.

“You just look at the numbers on the glass,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said. “That tells you everything you need to know. They just had their way with us. One guy beating three guys to the ball, [outrebounded] 53-36 overall, we were careless with the ball, 15 turnovers. That’s not how you win games.’’

The first two quarters were evident of that.

It had that look of bad February Bulls basketball right from the start, as defense seemed to be an option rather than a requirement.

New York put 29 on the Bulls in that first quarter, and in the second stanza the problems moved to the offensive side, as the Bulls shot 5-for-20 (25 percent) from the field and were outscored 25-16.

“We let our lack of shot-making effect our defense,’’ Hoiberg said. “We weren’t playing as a unit on that defensive side of the floor. You’re going to go through droughts and obviously we went through several, and we let it affect us on the other end. More importantly, we let it affect us on loose balls and toughness plays, physical play.

“We just got our [butts] kicked on the boards.’’

And everywhere around the boards as well.

Jimmy Butler again led the Bulls, scoring 26 points, while Nikola Mirotic chipped in 21 points and 10 rebounds, but the youngsters that had been so good lately really shrunk with the spotlight turning up a few degrees.

Rookie Denzel Valentine went 1-for-7 from the field, while Paul Zipser was 0-for-5.

While a loss was the last thing Butler wanted to see at this point on the schedule, he wasn’t exactly shocked by it either. Not when he’s seen it happen far too often this year.

“Nah,’’ Butler said, when asked if he was surprised with the stumble. “We didn’t come out with the fire that we needed to. They came out like they were playing for something and we didn’t. They whipped our tail in every aspect of the game.’’

Now it’s about making sure that doesn’t happen again.

The Bulls play at Philadelphia and then at Brooklyn, before coming home for games against Orlando and again Brooklyn.

“Effort,’’ Butler said. “That’s what it comes down to. Guard, rebounding, myself, everybody in here included. It’s happened before, but we can’t let it happen again in these last four. We need these. There’s nothing we can do about this one now. Next one up.’’

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