OKLAHOMA CITY – Tom Thibodeau and this current Bulls' core have experienced plenty of high points over the last three-plus seasons.
They reached the 2011 Eastern Conference finals, posted the league's best regular-season record twice,l and won a 2013 first-round playoff series with a gritty Game 7 road victory while missing three rotation players.
Now, the Bulls are a Mike Dunleavy game-winning banked 3-pointer away from an eight-game losing streak.
If the wheels aren't off after Thursday night's 107-95 loss to the Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena, the lug nuts certainly need to be tightened. This is what happens when you suffer enough injuries to make the training staff file for overtime.
Already without Kirk Hinrich and, of course, Derrick Rose, the Bulls lost Luol Deng to a sore Achilles before the game and Jimmy Butler to a sprained right ankle during the second quarter. Butler, who stepped on Nick Collison's foot, left the locker room on crutches before reporters were granted access. Thibodeau said he didn't know how severe Butler's sprain is.
In easily the worst stretch of this core's tenure, the Bulls have lost 13 of 16. They are 3-12 since losing Rose for the season to a torn meniscus.
Without missing a beat, Joakim Noah answered "yeah, no question" when asked if the Bulls are still a playoff team. Noah's track record on predictions is solid: He's the one who guaranteed that Game 7 road victory in Brooklyn.
"We still represent the Chicago Bulls," a defiant Noah said. "We still represent Chicago. Chicago is a city that deals with a lot of adversity. We're dealing with a lot of adversity. We just have to fight. That's the nature of this city."
The Bulls fought for most of Thursday, pulling to within 89-82 on a 3-pointer from D.J. Augustin, who played well in his second start with a season-high 15 points. But the Thunder responded with a quick 7-0 run, capped by a Kevin Durant 3-pointer. The run eventually grew to 16-4.
Durant led all scorers with 32 points. Russell Westbrook contributed 20 points and 10 assists, and Reggie Jackson added 18 points as part of a reserve effort that hurt the Bulls, who allowed 60 percent 3-point shooting.
"We're right there," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "The challenge for us is not to accept what's going on, to keep fighting and believe that, 'Hey, we're going to get these guys back at some point.'"
Noah's season-high 23 points and 12 rebounds led six Bulls in double figures. That included rookie Tony Snell, who re-entered the rotation when Butler went down and shot 4-for-15.
The Bulls shot 37.7 percent overall, the sixth time in eight games they have failed to crack 40 percent. That's some hard times, indeed.
"It's tough," Deng said. "We know what we're capable of when everybody is healthy. Right now, it seems like nothing is going our way. But it's a long season."