The Chicago Bulls have been keeping themselves afloat for most of the season, as they even maintained a top-third seed in the Eastern Conference for a good amount of time. But since the start of February, the Bulls have registered a mediocre 8-12 record, and their struggles don't seem to be stopping any time soon.
Low Scoring Affairs
Although the team has scored over 110 points per game in their last two games, they have only topped 90 points in approximately half of their games since February 1st (per Basketball Reference).
The games where they did score much more than their offensive rating illustrates usually included unconventional performances from different players who stepped up each time. For example, Nate Robinson is averaging 12.3 PPG this season, but he went wild and scored 34 points in 46 minutes of playing time in yesterday's loss against the Denver Nuggets.
They won't be able to rely on players like Robinson, Marco Belinelli or even Carlos Boozer to consistently score at a high level because they have been very inconsistent throughout the entire season.
They have been relying on their role players to step up for the majority of the season, which is why they have struggled to find wins when they haven't stepped up.
The problem is that the entire team is composed of role players. Make no mistake, they all contribute to be one of the best defensive teams in the league, but they aren't equally as effective on the other end of the court.
For the past several seasons, Derrick Rose was the player that the Bulls could rely on to get the team a bucket when they need it the most. Not many teams possess the same quality player as Rose, but they at least have a reliable scorer that can be called upon to lift a team out of scoring futility.
For the Bulls, the game starts and ends with defense.
They relied on defense for the entire season, because that's Tom Thibodeau's strong suit.
The Bulls have the sixth best defensive efficiency in the NBA, allowing opponents to score just 99.6 points per 100 possessions. However, they've allowed their opponents to score over 100 points in eight of their last 20 games, including three games where they gave up over 118 points.
For comparison, the Bulls only gave up over 118 points once in the entire season before the start of February.
As the playoffs are approaching fast, playoff contending teams should be fine tuning their work and prepare themselves for a (hopefully) long, successful playoff run. But it seems to be the opposite for the Bulls.
Maybe they're just getting tired from the regular season grind, but that's not an excuse to start slacking towards the end of the season.
Injuries Taking Their Toll
Rose's injury is obviously the most prominent one, but injuries to players like Kirk Hinrich, Richard Hamilton and Taj Gibson have certainly hurt the Bulls a lot recently.
Although Gibson's offensive game is limited, he's a great defender at his position and could take on the defensive assignment against any player in the league.
Hinrich is another underrated defender, and he has the size and length to defend either guard position.
Both Gibson and Hinrich brought a major defensive boost to the team, so their absence has certainly hurt the team defense thus far.
Hamilton, on the other hand, is definitely missed for his offensive production. His 10.2 points per game is good for fifth on the team and he is one of a few players on the Bulls roster that can get open and create his own shot.
All these factors play a role in the Bulls' recent struggles, and the light at the end of the tunnel is still yet to be seen. When Rose comes back, his presence on the court alone will re-energize and revitalize a slumping team in desperate need of some help.
But even if Rose does return, will the team have what it takes to make a long successful playoff run? Only time will tell.