The Bulls had just been run up and down by a woeful Toronto Raptors team that outworked them in almost every way and they were determined not to let that happen again. They knew they were better, much better, than what they had just shown and they didn't want to have that feeling in the pit of their stomachs again.
"We learned our lesson in Toronto after the break," Bulls forward Carlos Boozer said. "We had that five-day All-Star break and we came back and lost a game at Toronto, a team that, on paper, we should have beat. But we took them lightly and we got kicked in the butt.
"So tonight we came out, I thought we had great intensity from the beginning of the game and we played great defense. I don't know what they shot from the floor, but I thought we were everywhere tonight. I thought we got our hands on a lot of deflections tonight and did a good job of rebounding. And then on offense, we pushed the ball, made the right plays and I think we learned our lesson from the Toronto game."
The Bulls showed the type of improvement that good teams make over the course of the season. Unlike so many times earlier this season, the Bulls didn't play down to the Wizards' level. They slowly and methodically took apart the Wizards and broke their will.
Their defensive intensity was there and they completely dominated the Wizards down low in every important category. It was the type of game that even the Bulls' coach couldn't find many faults with.
"I thought our mindset was right from the beginning," Thibodeau said. "We got established offensively. The rebounding was outstanding to start the game, and I thought that gave us an advantage. We didn't take care of the ball as well as we would have liked to, but other than that, I thought we were ready to play."
The Bulls are still improving and they know it -- a scary thought for the rest of the league.
"You're always growing," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "Win or lose, you're always growing. It's all about experiences. I think that we have great character on this team and I think that as long as the mindset is just improving and getting better, I think we can do something special. But it's on us to stay focused on the next task."
That's the thing about these Bulls, they're always looking ahead. Like their coach, they're only ever worried about the next game, the next challenge. But even they had to admit that Monday's game was a little more impressive than usual. They did exactly what they were supposed to do in annihilating a bad team ... and it felt good. It felt like they were taking the proverbial next step that all good teams have to make at some point during the course of the long, 82-game season.
"I hope so," Derrick Rose said of the improvement. "Thibs came in and talked to us, and was telling us we can't let down against teams like this, where we've got to come out and play aggressive and have an edge. You don't never want to come into a game like this where you give them confidence."
They did, and in the process, they gained even more of their own.