Home woes continue for inconsistent Bulls

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bulls aren't as bad as they played in Sunday afternoon's deflating 96-84 loss to the Miami Heat.

But they aren't as good as they played in wins over the San Antonio Spurs and the Dallas Mavericks a few days ago. They are caught in the middle of an emotional rut that they can't pull themselves out of just yet.

"We just got to do better," said Pau Gasol in a quiet Bulls locker room. "I don't know if there's a straight explanation for it.

"We understand the importance of every game, especially here at home, we're trying to do better. We're trying to get ourselves going and get some kind of momentum."

But just when it appears the Bulls are gaining some momentum, they take another big step back. In hindsight, that's why Sunday's loss shouldn't come as much of a surprise. The Bulls, who are now just 13-11 at home, continue to struggle playing with a consistent effort at the United Center. They sleepwalk through too many games against sub-.500 teams and then try to fight back when it's too late. It's a trend that this proud group can't seem to shake.

On a broader level, the Bulls are still adjusting to their expectations before the season. Under Tom Thibodeau, the Bulls have always thrived as the underdog. They enjoy proving people wrong and winning games that many don't think they can win. But this season, they have excelled at finding ways to lose those games.

They don't play with the same fire against teams they believe they can beat, a fact that the players have admitted to throughout the season.

"It's a number of things," said Bulls power forward Taj Gibson. "[We] tend to get too lax at home. We got to have the right kind of energy. Sometimes I just think that in our head we think that we're good enough that we'll just step on the court [and win], and it's tough.

"Teams are out here gunning for us. [There's] a lot of speculation about how good we can be and how good we are and teams take pride in that and try to beat us, see how far they can go. We just got to learn from it, that's the only thing."

That's the only thing the Bulls can do at this point. They've got to continue learning from their mistakes. They've got to keep learning from each other. The belief was that Tuesday's team meeting put all the issues on the table for the Bulls. The feeling was that the players said what they had to say to Thibodeau and vice versa -- but everyone in the group was back on the same page. However, Sunday proved that all the issues haven't been corrected yet.

Now the Bulls embark on a six-game road stretch that will be split into two separate trips over the course of the next two weeks. They won't be favored in Tuesday's showdown against the Golden State Warriors, so they won't have to worry about playing down to their competition. But at some point they are going to have to figure out how to play with more passion against teams they should beat, especially at home.

The issue has moved past the point of being a trend this season -- now it's just a big problem.

When asked about that problem, Bulls point guard Derrick Rose offered a common refrain that sums up the feeling within the Bulls' locker room on Sunday.

"I really don't know," Rose said. "If I had an answer I swear I'd tell you, but I just don't know."