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Bulls need right response vs. skidding Pacers

CHICAGO -- For a team that has lost seven of its first nine games, the Chicago Bulls haven't been short on effort.

In a season that was sure to be filled with growing pains before it even started, the Bulls' struggles haven't been a surprise. Yet after dropping to 2-7 with a 119-114 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday, when the Bulls nearly rallied from a 23-point deficit, they have -- for the most part -- remained competitive with their opponents.

Yet in the times when coach Fred Hoiberg hasn't seen the effort he believes his young team is capable of, he hasn't been afraid to voice his displeasure. He did so again on Tuesday and now, heading into Friday night's home date with the suddenly struggling Indiana Pacers, Hoiberg is encouraged that his players can take constructive criticism.

"They've responded well to it," Hoiberg told reporters on Thursday. "They've responded well when we jump them in practice or it's a timeout and we have to get on them. We do. If it's a situation like Toronto, at halftime where we were playing with very low energy at the defensive end, you handle it and they respond to it."

Chicago got a boost of energy from forward Bobby Portis, who recorded 21 points and 13 rebounds against Toronto after being suspended for the first eight games of the season for punching teammate Nikola Mirotic in practice.

Despite coming up short against the Raptors, the way the Bulls responded to Hoiberg's heated halftime speech could provide momentum as they prepare to face the Pacers, who have lost four straight games.

Whether Chicago can build on Tuesday's second-half turnaround may provide some indication of whether Hoiberg's rebuilding team can truly learn from their mistakes.

"The big thing with this team is when you have a learning opportunity, you grow," Hoiberg said Thursday. "And I think our guys have responded well to that."

The Pacers, meanwhile, also find themselves at a critical juncture after falling to 5-7 with a 114-97 loss to the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday night. During their current four-game skid, the Pacers have seen a drop-off in their defensive effort while allowing an average of 115 points.

Following Wednesday night's loss in Detroit, the Pacers held a closed-door team meeting, which emphasized that players understood that something had to give after starting the season by winning five of their first eight games.

And as other teams have found out, Indiana can't afford to look past a Bulls team that is better than its record might indicate.

"It's still early in the season. But you lose four in a row, you have some things to talk about," Pacers forward Thaddeus Young said Wednesday, according to the Indianapolis Star. "You try to nip that in the bud before it gets out of hand."

What comes out of Wednesday's meeting will be put on display on Friday in Chicago. But for a team hoping things don't get worse, the test against Chicago will be a critical one.

But the Pacers are attempting not be too impacted by their recent struggles.

"You can't have a negative mindset this early in the season, but we definitely have to get the ball rolling," Pacers center Myles Turner told reporters following Wednesday's loss, according to the Star. "Chicago is a must win for us."

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