Tom Thibodeau raged about the slow starts to the game. Not coming in with an edge, and made it clear, that the group would be practicing a lot harder to make up for these slow starts. While the slow starts are an issue, they're really just a symptom of greater problems that the Bulls have had all year.
The starting lineup really is one of the Bulls worst lineups on the court
This is largely because Keith Bogans is the worst guy in the rotation, and he plays with the starting lineup and early third quarter line up. Keith Bogans has the worst net +/- of any player on the team while playing 100% of his minutes with the Bulls best player at every other position on the court.
Stop and think about that for a minute. The Bulls roll out the ball with their best player at every position except SG, and it yields the worst lineup statistically in winning vs the opponent of any lineup they ever use.
Now +/- is a wonky stat that can do almost anything, but one of the big intangibles that helps give false high +/- is playing all your minutes with great players. Bogans does that and still comes up the worst.
When the Bulls hit the playoffs, it makes sense to shorten the rotation. Every coach in the NBA shortens their rotation to maximize minutes for their best players. The Bulls are regularly going 10 deep, sometimes 11 deep. A typically playoff rotation is 8 deep. The Bulls should probably shorten their rotation to go 9 deep, and the guy who needs to get cut is Bogans.
The issue with Bogans has been masked by winning recently, but we've clearly seen it as an issue all year long.
Who do you start instead? Well that depends on the answer to this:
The Bulls need to pick a lane in terms of playing style early
Are they trying to play up tempo or slow down? One of the key problems with Boozer and Noah developing chemistry is that Boozer won't run, and Noah is at his best running. The team as a whole isn't pushing the pace early, and it's killing Joakim Noah's game and making him far less useful.
At the same time, Carlos Boozer hasn't been effective since returning from an ankle injury, so you've got Boozer playing lousy and Noah's strengths mitigated by the way you're running the offense.
I suppose the Bulls have already picked a lane, and it looks like the Boozer one, and right now, that lane isn't working so well. If you're going to stick with Boozer then insert Korver into the starting lineup ahead of Bogans. Play him on the strong side of the pick and roll, and you'll prevent wing help coming from that side in a way that Bogans only dreams he could do.
The Bulls may struggle a bit more defensively with Korver starting, but they're not going to score 16 points in the first quarter either.
The Bulls could also pull Boozer a bit earlier in the first rotation for Taj, and insert Brewer at the same time, and then play 5-6 minutes of high up tempo ball with a Rose, Brewer, Deng, Taj, Noah lineup.
Maybe Noah and Boozer can still work out their on court chemistry better down the line, because they haven't had much time together yet, but right now, it's not working that well. Injuries have actually helped cover up this wart considerably as the two haven't played all that many minutes together.
The Bulls struggle against teams with a lot of perimeter athleticism
Derrick Rose kills the big man trap, but where he gets into trouble is when the opponent can trap effectively with athletic SFs and SGs, and perhaps an athletic tweeter SF/PF;. Traps with more explosive athleticism have forced him into poor performances for much of the season.
Fortunately for Chicago, there are few teams in the league that can pull this off, and the Bulls prime opponents in the playoffs aren't likely in that group. Miami probably has the best chance, but the problem is they only have two guys (LeBron and Wade) and neither guy would typically be the primary defender on Rose to start with.
Plus if Miami puts both LeBron and Wade on Rose, they have shockingly little defense on the rest of the court, giving the Bulls a pretty huge advantage for everyone else.
Boston is too slow on the perimeter with Allen and Pierce. LA is too slow outside of Kobe, and they probably don't want to spend too much of Kobe's energy defending Rose if they can avoid it. Orlando's perimeter defense stinks, they'll rely on Dwight Howard.
This is where a second ball handler who could break down the defense off the dribble would help out the team, but obviously, outside of playing more Rose/Watson combination minutes, that's not coming at this stage of the game.
In a tight race for seeding, every loss hurts, but the Bulls are still in good shape
The Celtics continue their free fall and lost again. Have I mentioned that the Celtics are done? If the Bulls lose the race to the Lakers, this game might be the one that does them in. A home game against a good, but not great team that you expect to win.
Still, the Bulls hold a two game lead on both Miami and Boston in the loss column, so as long as they don't turn losing into a trend, they should be in good shape. Nine games to go, the magic number for the first seed is eight.