One of the main arguments for why Derrick Rose should win the 2011 NBA MVP Award is that he was the constant in the Chicago Bulls' starting lineup, while Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah each suffered injuries through the majority of this season.
Playing without one of them forces Taj Gibson and Kurt Thomas into the starting lineup.
Now that both Noah and Boozer are healthy (for the most part), Chicago should be rolling. And since Boozer's second return against Sacramento, the Bulls have blown out the Kings and Hawks and toughed out wins against the Grizzlies and Bucks.
Then came the loss at home to the 76ers. Not to overreact to the first loss at the United Center since mid-January, but one of the lingering problems for Chicago became magnified in the defeat.
Namely, Boozer and Noah are struggling to gel, especially on the defensive end.
Much of the blame, of course, has to fall on Boozer. He's arguably the worst defender on the Bulls (yes, even worse that Scalabrine) simply because of a lack of effort; the fact that he's undersized just exacerbates the matter.
The lesson Thibodeau tried to teach Boozer when he benched the power forward against New Jersey back in January didn't seem to work.
Yet, Noah also seems a bit lethargic on the defensive end, at least by his standards. Just from looking at the box score, it's clear he's no longer rebounding at a rate that rivals Kevin Love and Dwight Howard. He had 13 against Philadelphia but just four against Memphis.
I get that Boozer is taking away some of his boards, but the Bulls are the top rebounding team in the league, so he should get his looks.
If anyone can figure out how to fix this issue, it's Thibodeau. He has proven to be a fantastic coach thus far and reportedly met with players individually after the loss yesterday.
Fans seem to be labeling Boozer as the scapegoat now for the Bulls' problems, after Luol Deng and Keith Bogans played that role earlier in the season, yet the Bulls knew what they were getting. He's always going to be a defensive liability, which explains why the front office was not willing to part with Taj Gibson or Omer Asik at the trade deadline.
The answer might be to run the offense more through Boozer at the start of each half, which can get him going and hopefully more invested in the game. This could also provide the opportunity to sub Gibson in for Boozer earlier and solidify the defense.
The argument could be made that Boozer fits better alongside Asik on the defensive end, since the Turkish Delight is phenomenal on the defensive end and is an equally strong rebounder as Noah. And Noah seems to benefit from playing alongside Gibson, who is a longer defender and can contest shots at the rim.
Perhaps in the upcoming games, Thibs can try out different rotations to see what fits best.
Ultimately though, it's up to Boozer and Noah to figure out what they need to do to mesh successfully, since they are two of the Bulls' top four players, and should be in the game when it matters most.
Chicago learned the hard way just how important the top seed in the East is last night. The 76ers are a tough out. I could easily see this team forcing an aging Boston squad to a Game 7 in the first round.
The good news is that no one learns from a loss quite as much as Rose. He has vowed to get better and that he won't make the same mistake twice.
With only nine games remaining in the regular season, let's hope Boozer and Noah learn from their mistakes as well.