CHICAGO -- The bedrocks of Tom Thibodeau's tenure in Chicago are simple. The veteran coach believes if his team defends and rebounds each and every night, it will give itself a chance to win no matter how well it plays offensively.
Considering how poorly the Chicago Bulls have performed in both areas over the past two games, it's easy to understand why Thibodeau sounds so frustrated lately. His team has forgotten what got it to the top. After giving up 101 points and being out-rebounded 58-44 in a buzzer-beating win over the Toronto Raptors on Saturday night, Thibodeau's team followed that up by giving up 108 points and being out-rebounded 45-32 in a loss to the Denver Nuggets on Monday night.
"We just laid an egg," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "We didn't play good basketball tonight ... both ends of the court."
Noah speaks the truth. He scored just two points and grabbed just five rebounds in 23 minutes. Obviously, he wasn't the only reason the Bulls lost, but he hasn't exactly had a great two-game run (he was ejected in the second quarter of Saturday's game). The issue for the Bulls is that the fire that Noah and company usually play with has gone missing. It's easy to mask that fact against the lowly Raptors, not against a team fighting for its playoff life like the Nuggets.
"We've just got to come out and play harder, man, that's the biggest thing," Bulls guard Kyle Korver said. "We've got to play with an edge. This team is a good team, obviously, we're a good team, but if we don't play with that edge, I don't care who you are, this is the NBA and you're not going to win."
Luol Deng agreed with that sentiment. He can see that his team has been struggling and he knows they must fix it soon.
"We got to focus better throughout the whole game," Deng said. "I think things weren't going our way and we kind of just allowed it to happen, that's not what we do. We just got to get back. There's nights when you're not going to shoot well, but every night we've got to play hard. I thought tonight they played harder than us. They were more focused throughout the game and that's what we do. We can't allow that."
That's the message Thibodeau is trying to impart to his players. With only 15 games left to play, he knows his team can't start sliding now. With or without Derrick Rose and Rip Hamilton on the floor, Thibodeau expects a certain level of play from his team each night and it's clear that they haven't hit that level recently.
"We just let down [in] a lot of different aspects," Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. "From not doing great [in] transition to not getting back on D and that's the things that we're strong at. Rebounding the ball; that's the second game in a row we got really dominated on the rebounding part. We just have to get back and adjust."
So what do they have to do to get back on track? For the Bulls, it comes down to basics -- defense and rebounding. If an opponent is able to dictate the pace like the Nuggets did, Thibodeau's players know the team is in trouble.
"We played their game," Bulls guard John Lucas III said. "The transition game. It was windshield wipers back and forth, and that's not the way we play. That's the advantage right there, but ... you learn from your mistakes and this is something we're going to learn from and we're going to capitalize on it."