DEERFIELD, ILL.—Coming off of Tuesday night’s disappointing home defeat at the hands of Cleveland at the United Center—snapping the Cavaliers’ 11-game losing streak to the Bulls—Tom Thibodeau wore a grim expression on his face after Wednesday afternoon’s practice at the Berto Center.
Quality of opponent aside, the Bulls head coach’s team is clearly in a funk these days, not displaying the trademarks that have made them such a formidable squad this season, even when they have been short-handed.
As opposed to their usual selflessness on offense and military-like precision on defense, the Bulls have been prone to fits of individual freelancing on both ends of the floor—against the Cavaliers, defensive lapses plagued them, though in blowout losses to the Thunder and Heat, it was inefficient offense—and with injuries continually robbing them of a wholly intact roster, they simply can’t afford to not employ their intense, team-oriented style of play and expect to be successful.
“We played a low-energy game defensively [Tuesday], so we’ve got to straighten that out,” Thibodeau explained. “[Practice] does matter. Every day matters, so we have to be mentally and physically ready to go out, and we have to learn from each day, move forward, make the corrections that are necessary and just get ready for tomorrow.
“The challenge is to be a 48-minute team, and that’s in all areas. You can’t be on one side of the ball strong and weak on the other. The teams that have success are well-balanced, so you strive for that from the start of the season to the end. There’s going to be lulls that you have to work yourself through, and we understand that and the only way we’re getting out of it is by the work you put into it. You get into something together, you get out of something together and that’s the important thing, that we stick together, keep fighting, fight the good fight and just concentrate on improvement, do the right things. If we’re doing the right things each and every day, we’ll improve,” he continued.
"I don’t know if it’s a lack of focus. That’s something you have to guard against. I know the intentions of our team. The guys, they want to win and they want to be successful, so there’s a tendency, when things aren’t going your way, to do more individually and that’s what you have to guard against. You have to stay within a team concept, do the things that will make the team successful and the intention is good, that you want to win and do more, but it’s misguided if you try to do it individually. Everyone has to know what everyone is doing. It’s a team game and that’s what we have to get back to.”
It doesn’t help that the Bulls don’t currently have the services of backup big man Taj Gibson, who suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament and could be out for up to two weeks.
“Just a sprain, so we’ll see how it goes,” Thibodeau said about Gibson’s prognosis. “Could be a little sooner or a little later. He was a little better today, but just got to be patient.”
On the bright side, starting point guard Kirk Hinrich, who had 11 assists Tuesday, had no setbacks in his return to the lineup after missing three games following the veteran re-aggravating a lingering right-elbow injury, according to Thibodeau.
[HIGHLIGHTS: Bulls suffer letdown against Cavs]
Although Wednesday’s session was lengthy, it wasn’t physically taxing, as Thibodeau was conscious of the minutes some of his mainstays are playing.
“Some guys are playing big minutes, so we didn’t do a lot,” he explained. “We did film, we did some shooting, did some passing and went through some offense.”
Thursday evening, in the second contest of a three-game homestand, the Bulls will host Philadelphia, a team that can relate to the absence of a star player—center Andrew Bynum, the 76ers’ big offseason acquisition, has not played all season, but has started to practice with his teammates—as well as one with a lot of frustration, due to the team’s recent slide.
Following the Sixers’ loss Tuesday night to Orlando, head coach Doug Collins, one of Thibodeau’s predecessors in Chicago, went off on a press-conference rant that’s been making the rounds.
“Doug is a great coach and I know how much he’s invested into his team. we’re all human, so frustration can creep in, but he’s done a great job since he’s been there. He’s done a great job coaching throughout his career, so I have a lot of respect for him,” Thibodeau said. “They’re dangerous. They’re fighting and they’ve had serious injuries, but [All-Star point guard Jrue] Holiday is a tremendous player, [Chicago native Evan] Turner, Thaddeus Young’s back—he was injured for a while—so we know how good they are.