It’s clear that this 5-5 team is struggling to adapt without superstar point guard Derrick Rose, who is out indefinitely rehabbing a torn ACL suffering in last year’s first playoff game.
However, that’s no excuse for their poor defensive effort, something that head coach Tom Thibodeau is fuming about. He vented to ESPN Chicago’s Nick Friedell:
"The defense right now, the intensity, we got to get that part right," a frustrated Thibodeau said. "We got to get that right. The rebounding's not good, the turnovers … so the defense the rebounding and the turnovers, all three are a problem right now so we got to correct that. Those three things put you in position to win. Then the inside out and sharing the ball. So we got to correct that."
While the Bulls are still ninth in the league in points allowed—giving up just 94.2 per game—they haven’t held a team under 100 since beating the Minnesota Timberwolves back on November 10th—four games ago.
If that trend continues, the Bulls are going to lose a lot more than they win. They aren’t an offensive team whatsoever without Rose, relying on a relatively even point distribution between their starters and primary bench players.
Luol Deng is the “go-to” scorer now, and is averaging just 18.1 points in 40.1 minutes of play. When Joakim Noah, a player renowned for his defensive intensity and hustle, is the second leading scorer—it’s readily apparent that this isn’t a group that will outgun anyone.
The Chicago brass did its best to find an adequate replacement for Rose in the offseason, bringing “Captain” Kirk Hinrich back aboard to facilitate and signing a surprisingly rejuvenated Nate Robinson to get buckets off the bench, but coach Thib’s squad is obviously still hurting without the 2010 MVP’s production.
It's looking like the only way to keep this ship afloat is to figure out a way to play defense, and fortunately that is the head coach’s specialty. He’s a mastermind that knows how to hinder the opposition, regardless of personnel. Unfortunately, it seems that the players and Thibodeau aren’t on the same page right now.
Until they get their act together, dial up the intensity on D and buckle down for stops, the Bulls are going to struggle. They have a chance to turn things around and get back above .500 on Wednesday night when they travel to Houston to take on the Rockets.
If you tune in, make sure to observe how the team is playing defense as a unit against a feisty young team that includes James Harden, Jeremy Lin and former Bull, Omer Asik. It’s imperative that they succeed on that end in order to hold the Rockets under 100 points and pick up a W.