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3 takeaways from the Chicago Bulls’ 3-1 road trip, including missing chance to reach the .500 mark

LOS ANGELES — The chase for a winning record remains just out of reach for the Chicago Bulls, who lost to the Los Angeles Clippers 112-102 on Saturday to fall to 31-33. But as the Bulls head home from a 3-1 trip, something close to consistency is brewing on the court.

In November, the nine-game chasm between the Bulls and the .500 mark seemed close to unconquerable. That’s what happens when a team opens its season with a blowout loss so demoralizing that it requires players to send their coaches out of the locker room for a private dissection of their failure. For the first 19 games, the Bulls didn’t know who they were.

The lowest point of the season came at the end of that 5-14 stretch on a trip that mirrored this past week’s — a four-game swing to the East Coast against a mix of beatable opponents and top challengers. The Bulls lost every game of that trip, capped by a 27-point beatdown at the hands of the Boston Celtics. As the team flew home from Massachusetts, it stared down a brutal question: How much worse can this get?

Nearly four months later, the Bulls found themselves on the opposite coast in an opposite situation: three wins under their belt, a .500 record only two quarters away. They couldn’t close out on the fourth-best team in the Western Conference despite leading at the half, but the Bulls finally have forged a clear identity in the middle of the East standings.

Despite the swing in momentum, the Bulls weren’t close to celebrating.

“It’s a bummer because we had the opportunity to go 4-0,” Dosunmu said. “Our confidence is high because we aren’t leaving here like it’s a moral victory. We understand we can’t get it back, but we understand we was just good enough to be right there to win this game.

Here are three takeaways from the loss.

1. Bulls start hot, cool off from behind the arc

The first half encapsulated how the Bulls can trade blows with top teams — limiting opponents on the offensive boards, turning the Clippers over 10 times while giving up five turnovers of their own. And most important, the Bulls won the first half from behind the 3-point line even with a quiet start from Coby White.

The Bulls went 8-for-18 on 3s in the opening half, with a pair each from Ayo Dosunmu and Torrey Craig. The Clippers, meanwhile, were 5-for-19. That dynamic flipped in the second half; the Bulls went 1-for-9 in the fourth quarter.

2. Clippers capitalize on second-half mistakes

The Bulls led by 14 points in the opening minute of the second half after a tight first half of offensive play. But the Clippers made their comeback by making the Bulls uncomfortable, countering with an 11-0 run.

After turning the ball over four times in the third quarter, the Bulls struggled to regain the consistency necessary to hold off the onslaught of defensive pressure from the Clippers on the perimeter. The Bulls gave up 11 points off turnovers and 10 second-chance points in the second half.

3. Standings untouched after 3-1 trip

Whether the Bulls won Saturday’s game would not have affected their standing in the East, where they remain mired in the No. 9 spot.

Even after stacking three wins before Saturday, the Bulls are still four games behind the No. 8 seed Indiana Pacers. They’ve maintained their distance from the Atlanta Hawks to avoid slipping into the final spot in the play-in tournament, but the Bulls don’t have a strong path to advance their play-in standings — and a very slim margin for an outright playoff spot — with 18 games left in the season.