The Bulls entered All-Star Weekend on a sour note, losing four of five and falling behind the Pacers in the Central Division.
After an intense practice Monday afternoon at the Berto Center, Tom Thibodeau hopes his group is prepared to enter the home stretch on a different note.
"We had slippage," Thibodeau said of the Bulls' recent stretch of play. "The big thing is getting our intensity level back up to where it needs to be so we can execute at a high level. And for us that's paramount. We have to clean some things up offensively and defensively, but the biggest thing is gonna be the level of intensity. We need to get that back."
That intensity was lacking the week leading up to the All-Star break. Road losses to Indiana, a 32-point loss at Denver and a home loss to a Spurs team missing their top three players left Chicago with a sour taste in their mouths after what was an otherwise impressive first half to the season.
Injuries certainly took its toll on the lineup, which Tom Thibodeau said made it a "strange finish" for his group. Kirk Hinrich missed all seven February games -- six of which were on the road -- with a right elbow injury, Joakim Noah missed three games to rest a plantar fasciitis injury he is still dealing with and Carlos Boozer missed three games himself with a hamstring injury.
"Combine all the road games with guys being in and out of the lineup, you're gonna be challenged in different ways because you're not gonna have the same rhythm. But we have to have the intensity level, by whoever steps in, and I think we've shown when the intensity level is right we're capable of beating anybody. And that's what we have to do."
Joakim Noah, who returned from his first All-Star Game appearance in Houston this past weekend, echoed Thibodeau's sentiments on getting back to playing Bulls basketball.
"I think we've got a ways to go but we're working hard," Noah, who had 8 points and 10 rebounds in Sunday's All-Star Game, said. "I think the potential is when we're playing right and we're playing hard, we've proved that we can beat everybody. We've also proved if we don't play together we could lose together. So it's on us to focus in. There's two months until the playoffs start and its on us to be ready for that."
Getting Hinrich back in the lineup will help, and Noah said he'll "figure it out" on how to deal with his foot injury going forward. The Bulls won't have any grace period in upping their intensity, with games against Miami (Thursday) and at Oklahoma City (Sunday) this coming week.
"We talk all the time about not getting bored with the process," Hinrich said. "I think we've proved we can play at a high level and we just have to tighten a few things up, keep our energy high every night and just keep going. The tendency is after the break, a week before the break, a week after the break, teams either do really well or not so well. So we want to be one of those teams that plays really well."
Noah said Thibodeau had a long talk with his group this afternoon, urging his team to re-focus after their layoff and to get back into rhythm on the offensive end. The Bulls averaged just 90.0 points and committed 13.1 turnovers per game in their seven-game stretch in February.
Thibodeau also said the unofficial start to the second half of the season will allow his team to analyze where it stands and adjust to new goals as they come down the home stretch without their star, Derrick Rose.
"We touched on a lot of things," Thibodeau said of his meeting with the team, "and the big thing was we have to go step-by-step, doing the right things, getting the intensity level back, and it comes down to how hard, how smart and how together we can play. And we know being shorthanded without Derrick that's our only chance at having success. So we have to get back to that."