January 21, 2015

The San Antonio Spurs are off to the second-best start in the NBA, thanks in large part to them ranking first in the league in scoring defense.

That could be spell trouble for the Chicago Bulls, who find themselves in an offensive slump going into Monday night's meeting at the United Center.

At 14-3, the Spurs trail only undefeated Golden State, and they've won 11 of 12. They're giving up an 89.7 points per game and have held six of their last nine opponents to 84 or fewer, while accomplishing that feat eight times on the season - twice more than they did in 2014-15.

They limited Atlanta to 42.5 percent shooting in Saturday's 108-88 home victory, shutting down a Hawks team that had averaged 106.4 points in its previous five games.

San Antonio excelled defensively last season, too, giving up 97.0 points per game to rank third. LaMarcus Aldridge has helped fuel the improvement with the Spurs allowing 96.0 points per 100 possessions when he's on the floor. Tiago Splitter (100.9), Aron Baynes (102.5) and Boris Diaw (104.1) split the majority of the starts at power forward in 2014-15.

"Usually we are a team that builds defensively, slowly," guard Manu Ginobili said. "This year we started very well, very aggressively. The addition of LaMarcus gives us more size. He has quick feet to switch, to get in a better position quicker."

Chicago (9-5) followed a four-game winning streak by dropping two of three to end a four-game trip. The Bulls shot 37.6 percent in those three contests and were held to fewer than 95 points in each.

They shot a season-low 34.8 percent in Friday's 104-92 loss to Indiana, going 21 for 66 on 2-point shots. Nikola Mirotic scored a season-high 25 points but the other starters were a combined 14 of 49 from the field.

Chicago was also outscored 21-5 on the fast break and has given up a 73-29 advantage in transition in the last four contests.

"Just have to keep fighting to get better; just didn't play well," coach Fred Hoiberg told the team's official website. "Especially on the offensive end as a team. Movement, get the ball swung; we're doing it in practice, getting the ball swung. We've got to carry it over to the games."

Derrick Rose has shot 11 for 36 in two games since sitting out two with a sprained ankle.

"Oh, my God, I felt like I played like (crap) tonight," he said. "I don't know what the case might be. Thanksgiving, I don't know. It's a hard one losing like that in here, but the energy level, my energy, wasn't up. It is a tough game when you come back from the West Coast, but we can't use that as an excuse."

Pau Gasol is also struggling, shooting 35.8 percent over his last five games, though he's still been a factor on the glass with 56 rebounds in that span.

Tony Parker is in the midst of an extremely efficient stretch for the Spurs, shooting 68.0 percent over his last five games. He's made 53.6 percent in his last eight meetings with Chicago.

San Antonio has won four of the last six meetings, while the Bulls are 5-1 at home this season.

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