February 07, 2015

With their playoff hopes dashed, the Chicago Bulls are left to try to wrap up their disappointing campaign in the most positive fashion possible.

The Bulls can at least avoid their first losing record in eight seasons by winning at least one of their final two games against fellow eliminated teams. They'll play the first of those at the severely depleted New Orleans Pelicans on Monday night.

Chicago's postseason hunt ended with Indiana's 129-105 rout of Brooklyn on Sunday, a bitter end for a franchise that once held championship aspirations. The consistency that was a hallmark under hard-driving former coach Tom Thibodeau was lacking at times in Fred Hoiberg's first season at the helm.

The Bulls (40-40) had one of their better efforts Saturday and a 105-102 victory against Cleveland gave them a 7-1 mark against the top two teams in the Eastern Conference - 3-1 vs. the Cavaliers and 4-0 against Toronto. That was offset by losses to lowlier competition like New York, Minnesota, Orlando and Phoenix.

"(The win over Cleveland) shows character. It shows pride," center Pau Gasol said. "But it's also very frustrating because if we showed this type of edge and competitiveness every single night, we wouldn't be talking about this."

There are likely changes coming for the Bulls in the offseason but Cristiano Felicio might work his way into the rotation if he can continue to perform like he did Saturday. The Brazilian rookie had a career-high 16 points on 7-of-7 shooting.

"He can play as everyone saw tonight," guard Jimmy Butler said. "I think if you give anybody confidence - and he's a very confident player - they can show that they can play. He's here to stay. He works really hard, and I'm happy for him."

Felicio will try to build on that performance while helping the Bulls officially avoid their first losing mark since going 33-49 in 2007-08, the last season in which they failed to make the playoffs. They were 41-41 in each of the following two seasons and have experienced five straight winning campaigns.

To extend that streak, Chicago will need to top New Orleans and Philadelphia. The Pelicans (30-50) reached the 50-loss mark for the third time in franchise history with a 121-100 loss to Phoenix on Saturday.

They used nine players in their rotation for that defeat. Chicago native Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson, Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon and Jrue Holiday - brother of Bulls guard Justin Holiday - are among the bevy of New Orleans' missing players.

Toney Douglas had a season-high 23 points in the Pelicans' fourth game in five days and is averaging 20.7 in his last three games.

"We played hard but we just didn't have it tonight, energywise," Douglas said. "At the end of the day, no excuses. We lost tonight. We've got to learn from it and get ready for Monday against Chicago."

The Bulls have won three straight against the Pelicans, including a 98-94 home victory Dec. 12, and have prevailed in six of their last seven trips to New Orleans.

They likely won't have Taj Gibson (bruised rib) or E'Twaun Moore (hamstring) for this visit. Both players are considered doubtful.

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