The Bulls haven't played well for much of the season. They've had a nice streak against quality teams and a 13-2 run, but they haven't been dominating anyone, and their poor defense has let other teams stay in and win games against them.
The interesting question with the defense is whether it's bad because of personnel or whether the team simply isn't motivated. While I haven't been a fan of Pau's defense, it's hard to argue that he's worse than Boozer was. He actually contests and blocks shots at the rim.
Joakim Noah may simply be severely limited with his knee, and if so, that's a problem the Bulls may have no solution for. He's traveling with the team to Boston tonight but will hopefully rest.
Joe Cowley, of the Sun Times, noted on the score that several players seemed to have notes from their trainers which had them stopping certain types of drills in practice. The insinuation was that Jo and Derrick had Jen Swanson telling them not to do certain things with many of those being some of the monotonous defensive drills.
That may be impacting the team. Derrick and Jo have been two of the guys you'd expect quite a bit from defensively who haven't delivered. That said, I think the Bulls do need to protect those guys since Derrick and Jo both clearly look well under 100% in terms of health.
The Bulls used to be able to count on Kirk Hinrich for pesky defense, but it seems like more nights than not he's simply over matched physically and unable to do what he used to.
Perhaps a better question is what has happened to Butler's defense. Butler was hailed as an all defensive team candidate. Early in the season he was smothering players on both ends of the floor. In January the reverse is true.
As pointed out in the comments yesterday, Butler hasn't been the same since returning from bereavement. I'm not sure who Jimmy lost as I haven't seen it reported anywhere, but death can hang over people's heads and maybe his head is simply not fully in the game.
However, when you start going up and down the roster and find an excuse for every player on the team as to why they aren't defending well, are you searching for excuses or are these guys simply not tuning in with the same intensity they were in the past?
This was a team built on defense with largely the same core players on defense it had the past few seasons when it was an elite defensive team. Rose and Gasol should in fact upgrade the players they've replaced (Augustin and Boozer primarily).
It hasn't come together, and Pau Gasol recently went on a rant about how the team isn't where it needs to be and the effort, trust, and communication aren't where they need to be.
Gasol may have simply been reacting to the loss. If the Bulls defense was porous in a 121 to 117 win then there probably isn't a rant, but he seems to be hinting that the Bulls are tuning out the coach too.
With Cowley pointing out that there seems to be some disagreements between Swanson and Thibodeau on practice habits, several player/coach clash incidents, and the long running management/thibs feud, the Bulls house isn't falling down like Cleveland, but it doesn't look so great either.
Winning likely cures everything, it always does. The Bulls are more than capable of winning plenty of games as well. However, their splits don't show them as an elite team.
Chicago has all the pieces to become one. We see the signs in glimpses here or there. Rose, Gasol, Noah, and Butler have all shown quality play at various points, but the Bulls have a long way to put it all together, and the season is officially half over for Chicago.
There's still time left, but there's not a ton of it.
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