The Bulls saved their worst play for the last day of the year.

In a New Year's Eve matinee, the Bulls looked like they were ready for a new start after a disheartening 91-81 loss to the Bobcats.

Not only had the Bobcats been outscored by 13 points per game during an 18-game losing streak, they had allowed a league-high 104.5 points per game for the season.

And it could have been worse if the Bobcats hadn't missed 17 free throws.

"Right now we are not a 48-minute team," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "I have to figure this out. I have to make us ready. We need an edge to start the game. We cannot ease our way into a game and say, 'OK, we're good, we'll get ourselves corrected.'

"It doesn't go like that."

The Bulls pretty much played their way out of Monday's game in the first quarter when they shot only 29 percent and fell behind by 10 points. They never led, although they did tie the game at the end of the third quarter.

"No excuses, we've got to play through it and play ourselves out of the funk," said Taj Gibson, who scored eight points and had nine rebounds in 21 minutes. "We're in a little bit of a funk right now, but we've just got to push through it."

The "funk" would be the Christmas Day blowout loss to the Rockets and Monday's game, split only by a Saturday victory over the NBA's worst team, the Wizards.

"We could play better," said Luol Deng, who led the Bulls with 20 points. "That's easier said than done. We've been there before. We've just got to play hard. Just stay positive, keep playing together. Next game we've just got to come out and play harder."

The only time the Bulls looked like they played hard Monday was in the third quarter, which ended 65-65. But four minutes later the deficit was back to 10 points and the 21,986 fans at the United Center were getting restless.