DEERFIELD, Ill. -- The gym doors at the Berto Center have been closed longer than normal these days, a clear sign that the Chicago Bulls are getting their collective system purged of some early bad habits.
Coach Tom Thibodeau tried to downplay the added work Tuesday, but it's clear that 3-point shooting and most aspects of defense have been emphasized in practice this week.
"Yeah, I think we're trying to get better," reserve forward Mike Dunleavy Jr. said about the ramped-up intensity in practice. "Starting off 1-2 is not good enough for us and we have to make improvements. We have to spend a little more time in the gym and hopefully it will pay off."
Derrick Rose's early-season struggles are not because of lethargy. The former MVP has been staying late to work on his game after every practice. But it's the work ethic of guard Jimmy Butler, who missed three preseason games, that seems to have impressed Thibodeau the most.
"I'm not surprised that some people are not in rhythm yet," Thibodeau said. "You can't miss an entire training camp or a good chunk of it and expect to play well. You have to put in the time and work into it.
"Jimmy Butler has missed a significant amount of time, but he's been working his tail off. He's working hard in practice, getting here early, staying late, coming in at night. I'm confident that he'll be playing well again. He's putting the work into it. That's what you have to do. We need everyone. It's not a Derrick issue. This is a team issue. This is a Bulls issue."
Perhaps the longer practice times this week have been for the benefit of Joakim Noah. Before training camp even ended, Thibodeau remarked how Noah's fitness was nowhere near up to speed and he was asked about it again Tuesday.
"He's a work in progress," Thibodeau said.
Thibodeau never imagined his defense would be so shaky, especially since the core of the team has been in the system for multiple seasons now. But the play on the defensive end has been the biggest concern after three games with the Bulls allowing 98.3 points a game.
"It's inconsistent," Thibodeau said. "You have different guys that are playing now. You can do all the conditioning on the side that you want, if they're not participating in the contact and you're not competing -- competing is what gives you an edge. You can ride a bike forever, you're not competing. You have to get used to competing. This is a competition. It's not a show, it's a competition. You've got to go after people. And that's what we've got to get back to."
If the Bulls want some inspiration to play better on the defensive end, they won't have to look very far. They will be in Indiana on Wednesday night facing a defense well ahead of where their own is at this time.
"They have some size inside with (Roy) Hibbert, who does a great job of protecting the rim and they have good wings," Dunleavy said. "They have length, they can guard, they get out in the passing lane. They do a lot of things well, they are well-coached and they have good principles. That makes them one of the best in the league."
Thibodeau knows that not many people have positive reports about his own defense right now. Is his team somehow less prepared that in previous years?
"Well, it shouldn't be that way because we have a core of guys that have been here for a long time now," Thibodeau said. "So the challenge now becomes how quickly everyone can get on the same page."