CHICAGO -- The scene looked the same on Saturday night in the Chicago Bulls locker room.
After two promising victories over the past week, Tom Thibodeau's team fell into a familiar trap against a talented Dallas Mavericks squad. It fell into a big hole early, its defense wasn't sharp and it allowed a faster team to set the pace on the floor. After it was over, players dressed quietly as Jimmy Butler hobbled around on a turf-toe injury that continues to bother him. Joakim Noah sat in front of his locker and discussed how poorly the Bulls played, promising that his team would play better. Minutes earlier, Thibodeau sat in front of reporters and tried to take the blame for not having his team ready to play. Taj Gibson said players weren't being consistent enough to produce victories.
Any fan who has followed this team over the past month can picture the scene: A frustrated group of proud players can't believe it is struggling so much in every aspect of the game.
"It was just everybody," Noah said. "We didn't play well. We didn't play well offensively. We didn't play well defensively. We got to do a better job, and we will."
As is always the case for the Bulls these days, there's no reason to believe things will change the way Noah wants. Luol Deng sounded optimistic on Saturday about playing at some point in the next few days as he continues rehabbing an Achilles injury, but even when he does come back, he'll be coming back to a flawed team. Chicago is still going to win games this season -- especially against bad teams that have poor discipline, like the Brooklyn Nets and the Cleveland Cavaliers -- but Saturday night served as another reality check for the Bulls.
Their margin of error every night is razor-thin. They don't have enough offensive talent to stay with good teams. They can't allow teams to shoot well from the outside like the Mavs, who went 13-for-26 from beyond the arc. The list goes on, and the rhetoric remains the same for a team that has to adjust to a new lineup almost every night.
"I'm surprised," Gibson admitted of the Bulls' performance. "But right when you're feeling too good about yourself, somebody smacks you. That's a part of the NBA. Humble beginnings. You just got to bounce back, but we got to do our job. [Thibodeau] told us what to do. At times, we did it, but at times, we didn't do it. And it hurt us."
What appears to be hurting more for the Bulls is the fact that Butler appeared to be in a lot of pain after the game. Without Deng on the floor, and with rookie Tony Snell ineffective, Butler played almost 46 minutes in the blowout. Problem is, he played on the same toe injury that caused him to miss almost a month of the season already. Butler tried to shake off the injury after the game, but his actions told a different story. He was in pain.
The Bulls still have a chance to make it into the playoffs and find a way to make the most out of another lost season, but this loss serves as a reminder that is unshakable, no matter how much Thibodeau and his players say otherwise. Heart and hustle are great to have, but those characteristics are no match for the most important quality of all in the NBA on a night-to-night basis: talent.
The Bulls don't have enough of it to beat good teams right now.