Bulls lack firepower to get past top teams

CHICAGO -- Tom Thibodeau spits out advice and instructions like a dragon spits out fire.

Watching his team turn the ball over 17 times and play lackadaisically during key stretches, especially late in the second quarter when Blake Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers put on a personal highlight display, Thibodeau fumed during and after the game. He looked like a volcano that was about to explode during the contest and had a clear message for his team after it was over.

"Don't dance with the ball," Thibodeau said. "We are going to keep working on it. It was disappointing because it ended up being a two-possession game. If you want to be a good team, the first thing you have to do is eliminate all the things you do to beat yourself."

Never has a truer Thibodeau phrase been spoken. When the Bulls face elite-level competition this season, especially without Derrick Rose and Rip Hamilton, they have to do all the little things in order to win. They have to take care of the ball, play solid defense and control the tempo and both ends.

They don't have the luxury of waiting for their superstar to take over because they don't have one at the moment. That was the problem for them on Tuesday against Griffin and Chris Paul. When the Bulls needed a big play or a defensive stop they couldn't find either. Luol Deng and Marco Belinelli combined to go 9-for-36 from the field and Thibodeau's bunch didn't have enough to recover from that.

"Just a disappointing loss," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "We know we could play better. We fought, but you cannot put that team in transition. The turnovers hurt us, we just had a couple mental lapses … and it hurt us."

It's easy to rely on Rose's absence as an excuse, but that shouldn't absolve the Bulls from their performance on nights like this. The game was in reach for them late, they just couldn't overcome the holes they dug for themselves. Carlos Boozer was solid offensively (24 points), but he couldn't carry the load by himself. In order to beat better teams, the Bulls must play with more consistency and their veteran players know it.

"There are just times where we got away from what was being effective for us," Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich said. "When we're able to move the ball side to side, make quick decisions and the ball's hopping, we usually got something good, and when we didn't, we usually didn't."

It's like listening to the same broken record all season. After a few lapses defensively, the Bulls have bounced back to become one of the better groups in the league on that end. The offense continues to be a sore spot, though, and there's no telling night to night who will step up to fix the problem.

“We just got to pick and choose how we do things," Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. "We can't get into rushing shots, we just got to figure out who's hot and go to them and move the ball a little bit more. But in the game of basketball it's about chances. You're going to move fast at times, you're going to push the ball, you're going to take easy shots, tough shots, but we just got to do better. Every team around the league's going through the same thing but we just got to adjust. It's a long season."

It will seem even longer if the Bulls can't find a way to cure what ails them against top-tier teams in the league.