CHICAGO -- The Bulls won their fourth game in a row on Tuesday night and are a step closer to locking up the top seed in the Eastern Conference. But that doesn't mean that all the players are happy about it.
"I don't feel like I won tonight," Bulls point guard Derrick Rose said," "We're taking steps back. We've got to come back [Wednesday] practice hard, and make sure we get things together."
This coming from a man who's team just won its 57th game of the season.
He wasn't the only one who felt bad.
"We did not play tough with a lead," Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said. "Our shot selection hurt us, our defensive transition hurt us. We have to do a lot better. We have to clean up a lot of things."
This coming from a man who's team has exceeded every possible expectation any reasonable fan had coming into the season.
But both of these reactions show just how serious Rose and Thibodeau are about getting to the next step that elite-level teams must take in their progression. The fact that they felt this bad after a loss underscores how much the bar has been raised over the course of this season. The Bulls expect to win, and win decisively, every time they hit the floor. When they don't, they realize that those kinds of performances just won't cut it when they start playing meaningful games in May and June.
"I thought we did a poor job once we took the lead of really executing and we kind of went away from our gameplan," Bulls forward Luol Deng said of the 22 point lead the Bulls almost blew to the Suns.
The veteran forward added a crucial point while continuing to sum up the night. "But we got to take the positive out of it," he said. "It's a good experience for us, making good plays at both ends of the floor. We'll watch the tape [Tuesday] and learn from it."
That seemed to be the mindset of everyone else in the locker room not named Thibodeau and Rose.
"We want to win the game, no matter how good we play, no matter how poor we play, at the end of the day, we want to get the win," Bulls forward Carlos Boozer said. "I was proud of our guys for shaking off a tough second half and still winning the ballgame. You've got to take the good with the bad. Yeah, we lost our lead. But yeah, we still won the game. We'd rather win and learn and get better than lose and have to get better."
That's the mentality Joakim Noah had as well.
"I don't think we should look at it like that," Noah said of Rose's attitude. "It's hard to win in this league, you know? I think that it's important to remember that. And there's no question that we have things we have to do to get better. We didn't play our best basketball tonight, but I think we're a team that understands that there's areas that we have to get better at and we have six games to do it. At the end of the day, a win is always a positive."
Noah isn't concerned about Rose or Thibodeau. He knows they both want the best for the Bulls and so does he. The emotional center just has a different outlook on the way things are unfolding.
"He's OK, man. He's OK," Noah said, when asked if he'd speak to Rose. "I think we all know that we didn't play our best basketball tonight as a team, and we made mistakes. I think we have good character on this team and we realize that we can learn from it and move on."
At this point in the season, that's about all the Bulls can do.
After all, things can't be that bad for a team when a win actually feels like a loss.