LOS ANGELES — At least some of Sunday afternoon’s 121-82 loss to the Clippers at the Staples Center could be attributed to the collective hangover the Bulls were feeling in the aftermath of Derrick Rose’s potentially season-ending right-knee injury.
[WATCH: Hinrich and Noah on Derrick Rose's injury]
It didn’t help that the Clippers are one of the most offensively potent teams in the NBA and the other member of the Bulls’ starting backcourt, Jimmy Butler, is also back in Chicago, nursing a turf-toe injury suffered last Monday. But the fact remains that the Bulls are now losers of three consecutive games, the entirety of the “Circus Trip” thus far and with a shallow bench, not a lot of scoring options and the vaunted defense not playing at an upper-echelon level at the moment, things look grim.
“I believe in those guys in that locker room. I know what they are capable of, and we will get ourselves ready,” Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said after Sunday’s loss. “All we have is each other, so we’ve got to lift each other up. I don’t want them changing routines, know your opponent well, make yourself ready, have great concentration. I think this team has already shown that they have the capability of being a great defensive team, so I expect that. That wasn’t relying on one person that was relying on everybody to do their job. That’s the way we have to play and that’s the way we’re going to play.”
Translated from coach-speak, that means a lot of gritty defensive standoffs, a focus on precise offensive execution and a lot of ugly basketball games are in store. It remains to be seen whether the Bulls can muster up the focus necessary to do that on a regular basis, as they tried to keep up with the Clippers, offensively, a losing battle from the start, resulting in the home team shooting 62.5 percent from the field in the first half, as All-Star point guard Chris Paul had 11 of his 17 assists in the first two quarters.
“When you try and outscore people, particularly on the road, and you don’t bring a defensive mindset, bring a rebounding mindset, you’re going to be in for a long night,” Thibodeau explained. “We have to gather ourselves, prepare ourselves for [the Jazz on Monday]. The games are going to keep coming and I’ve got to do a better job of having them ready to do their job. We have to have an edge about us, and I don’t think we had that edge. That’s on me, I’ve got to have them ready to play.”
All-Star small forward Luol Deng, who scored a game-high 22 points, concurred: ““I thought the whole game we were just terrible defensively. I think when Derrick got hurt; it took us a little while to get into it. As a team, we have to come together and realize that we’re not going to outscore teams. Our defense and rebounding is going to be huge for us. That’s something we have to focus on and commit to as a group.”
It was clear that the shock of knowing Rose is again likely to be on the shelf for an extended period of time affected the Bulls and with Paul finding a cadre of proficient outside shooters, such as J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford and Jared Dudley, not to mention All-Star power forward Blake Griffin on the interior, it made for a bad mix for the visitors.
“The thing is, that’s there. We can use that if we choose. But no one is going to feel sorry for us; we’ve got enough in that room to get it done. So we’ve got to turn it around [Monday],” Thibodeau said. “We’ve got to come out with and edge, we’ve got to be ready to play defense and rebound. That’s the way we’re going to win. We’re capable of doing that. We weren’t today, but we better be [Monday].”
After a while, the Bulls should be able to find themselves again, as the core of the team is used to not having Rose and understands the formula necessary to stay afloat.
“We just have to get back to playing. We have to let Derrick focus on getting himself healthy. We have to focus on getting ourselves better. We’ve been in this situation before. It’s going to take all of us as a whole. We only believe in what the locker room feels. We don’t really look at the outside world where everybody is going to say negative about us,” Taj Gibson explained. “Thibs has talked to us the last two days. He wrote down what we need to do on a chalkboard. He basically said it doesn’t matter what the outside world says. He said we’ve been through a lot, achieved a lot. Even when backs were against the wall, we focused and we need to strive towards greatness. Nobody will give us a shot. We’re going to get hit. WE have to keep going. That’s what happens in life. You’re going to have bumps in the road. You have to keep fighting and that’s what we’re going to do.”