PORTLANDIf nothing else, the early portion of the annual Circus Trip has clearly illustrated that these arent last seasons Bulls. On paper, that was obvious, with Derrick Rose sidelined and the majority of the Bench Mob dispersed around the league, but the assumption that the team would have the exact same traits, simply because of the holdover players and coaching staff, at least thus far, has been proven otherwise.
Saturday night in Los Angeles, the Bulls lost because they simply laid an egg and while in general, they greatly improved their effort Sunday evening at the Rose Garden, the defensive identity thats been forged during Tom Thibodeaus tenure was largely absent. Perhaps more troubling is the fact that teams are beating them at their own game.
The defense right now, the intensity, weve got to get that part right. Weve got to get that right. The reboundings not good, the turnovers, so there are three thingsthe defense, the rebounding and the turnoversall three are a problem right now. So, weve got to correct that. Those three things put you in position to win and then, the inside-out and sharing the ball. Weve got to correct that, Thibodeau explained afterwards.
Your concentration, preparation and effort is what gives you intensity, so if youre not playing hard enough, you go back to those three things.
Added Luol Deng: Our defense is not where it used to be. Its not where we think it should be. Weve just got a lot of work to do and weve got different lineups out there. Weve got to learn how to play together, just the simple stuff. Making each other better, knowing what our strengths are and just sticking to that.
Its not like were losing where were playing great defense and not shooting the ball well. If the chemistry is just on offense, then thats where you say guys are getting adjusted to each other, but our biggest problem is defense. Its not our chemistry on defense and defense is what we do every day in practice. Weve just got to get that down, he continued.
We play hard and its been a while since we lost two in a row. Even when we have things going on, we always battled our way out and play hard. The last two gamesI thought today we played harder in spurts. In L.A., we didnt play hard and thats really the concern. Even when youre struggling, good things happen when you just play hard and weve got to understand that.
Weve got to learn to put stops together. I dont like comparing teams, but thats what we did well last year. The second unit came in and just got stops in a row. Everyone talked about offense, but its the defense and the stops we got, and thats how we win games. Thats what weve got to get back to, the All-Star went on to say.
The starting group have played together a lot and were not doing it. Then, the second group is coming in, not doing it. We cant really keep making excuses that were not used to doing it or theres different lineups. Its just playing hard, simple, and I think weve got to get back to that. Weve got to understand thats how we win games.
Were doing it in spurts. Were not doing it the whole time. Theres times when were taking bad shots. Theres times when the floor is not balanced. Theres times when teams make a run and were panicking out there.
Defense, where the Bulls used to be able to hang their hat, hasnt been the teams calling card as of late. Instead, opponents are scoring in a variety of waysin transition, uncontested drives, open jumpers, in the postthat simply didnt used to occur.
The Bulls periodic offensive droughts are one thing; those happened even with Rose on the floor and while they were winning league-high amounts of regular-season games. But theres clearly a letdown defensively when Thibodeau goes to his bench and as Deng alluded to, the strength of the previous reserve group was stringing together multiple stops, something they havent been able to consistently accomplish this season.
Just got to play harder, more solid on defense. Even if we cant score, weve got to recognize our defense. Thats one thing about the last bench we had. Even if we couldnt score, we made sure the other unit couldnt score on us, so thats one of the things we have to adjust to and thats about it, Taj Gibson, the lone Bench Mob holdover, explained.
Sometimes miscommunication and then sometimes, guys are fighting hard enough, but they just make a tough shot. Its tough at times because youve just really got to slow some of the second-unit players down. Like Ronnie Price came in, played big for them tonight and weve just got to recognize where to pick our poison.
Chimed in Rip Hamilton: Guys are still learning each other, especially on the floor. Not just offensively, but defensively. I think at times were good and at times, were bad and weve got to get better at just playing at a high level for 48 minutes and understanding how were going to be great.
It takes a minute, man, he added, speaking from experience, as his injury-plagued debut Bulls campaign gives him some perspective. Its not easy at all because I thought I was great at it, having so many coaches and so many years of playing, when youve got new teammates, too, it makes it kind of tough.
That doesnt excuse their lack of cohesion on offense, leading to turnovers, or seemingly a decreased effort on defense, but since its not a mystery, it does mean the Bulls are capable of being better. The last two seasons, for better or worse, established a set of expectations surrounding the squad and now, no matter what challenges are facing them, theyre being looked at to live up to them.