CHARLOTTE -- If Tom Thibodeau had more hair left on the top of his head, he probably would have pulled it out during the first half of the Chicago Bulls' 96-91 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats on Wednesday night.
Yet again his team came with little energy, giving up 55 points. Yet again his team tried to scratch and claw its way back down the stretch, but it was too late. For the third time in a week, the Bulls played down to their competition and couldn't find the right mojo when they needed it most. Even after grabbing the lead back late, Thibodeau's bunch shot itself in the foot late with poor rotations and costly turnovers.
"We brought on our own problems," the frustrated coach said after the game.
He speaks the truth.
Even after the poor start, the Bulls had plenty of opportunities to nail down a win, but they simply couldn't do it. The fact that his team continues to dig itself such big holes to climb out of night after night is driving the first-year coach crazy.
"The big thing about this league is getting ready to play each and every night," Thibodeau said. "Everyone says it's the last five minutes, no it's not. It's the start of the game. It's readiness to play. When you study all the stats, you see the teams that are leading after the first quarter, there's a big discrepancy in terms of how much they win. We're dodging bullets. We got to come out with a lot more intensity and we got to guard people at the start of the game."
Bulls power forward Carlos Boozer agrees.
"We can't be one of those teams that has slow starts and rely on ourselves to come back," he said. "We got to be a team that puts in on them from the jump and goes that way. It's something we've got to clean up and clean up fast before we get to Indiana."
While there is no question that the continued slow starts are hurting the Bulls, veteran forward Luol Deng believes that it's an overall attitude problem that may be hurting his team at the moment. After starting off the season on such a tear, he can see the complacency set in at certain times throughout the game.
"I think we're winning so many games that we're starting to relax a little bit and we can't do that," Deng said. "I think before we didn't really know how good we could be. We knew we had potential and we were coming out and playing hard and right now we've got a good record and we're kind of relaxing a little bit. We can't do that. To get to where we want to get to we got to keep playing like ... every game matters. We got to play; don't even think about the record and just play basketball. This is the NBA. And guys can play."
One of the guys who played extremely well on Wednesday night is a guy Deng knows extremely well. Former Bulls forward Tyrus Thomas dropped 17 points and 13 rebounds on his old team, clearly playing with a little more intensity than usual. While Thomas' performance may have surprised some people, he definitely didn't surprise his old teammates.
"When you play against a team that you were on players always tend to play harder," Bulls point guard Derrick Rose said.
No matter how well Thomas played though, Rose knows that the Bulls should have taken care of business earlier.
"We let this one slip tonight," he continued. "It's going to hurt us, but we got a game Friday and we're going to have to take it out on them."
In order to do that, Rose and the Bulls have to figure out a way to cure what ails them. By continuing to allow the Bobcats, or any other bad team to hang around and gain confidence early, the Bulls are putting themselves at a type of disadvantage that they haven't been able overcome lately. It's a trend that is beginning to scare Thibodeau. And it's one his players know they must fix soon.
"Right now, we're waiting until we're down and then we're picking up our intensity," Deng said. "We can't do that. We got to come out and play with a lot of energy and play hard right away. We're starting the games right now off sluggish and then we got to catch up."