Bulls' offense still struggling down stretch

INDIANAPOLIS -- Joakim Noah sat in the back of the quiet visitors locker room in Bankers Life Fieldhouse late Wednesday night with a towel over his head and heavy thoughts weighing on his mind.

Noah, the emotional leader of a talented Chicago Bulls team, contemplated why his team is struggling so much right now -- especially on the offensive end -- and couldn't come up with a reasonable explanation.

"I wish I knew the answer," Noah said softly. "I don't know what the answer is right now. We've got to get our groove as a unit, as a group, we got to get our groove. And it's going to come."

As the Bulls sputtered to a disappointing 97-80 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night -- a defeat that pushed their record to a surprising 1-3 -- Noah and his teammates were left wondering when things will turn around.

After a promising first half, the Bulls once again struggled to find any kind of rhythm on either end down the stretch, a troubling theme for a team that was expected to contend for a title this season.

"We got beat in every facet of the game," Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said. "The rebounding, defensive transition, turned it over. We're still not … you got to play 48 minutes against good teams."

The problem for the Bulls, as they proved Saturday night against the Philadelphia 76ers, is that they aren't even playing a full 48 minutes against the bad squads.

The Pacers are not in that group -- as they proved down the stretch -- closing the game on a 30-11 run. The Bulls could not knock down shots or make a defensive stop when they needed one.

The larger issue for the Bulls is that even if Thibodeau gets his patented defense in order, the Bulls' Achilles' heel appears to be on the offensive end.

They made just 11 field goals in the second half. To put that into perspective, the Pacers made 11 field goals in the fourth quarter.

"We didn't figure it out yet," Rose said of his team's continued offensive struggles late. "For me looking at it, our spacing gets kind of stagnant sometimes.

"That's something that we really got to look at, and that's something that we really got to work on. But we can easily change that. It's just that we got to get used to it."

Rose especially has to get used to seeing double-teams over and over late in games. The former MVP appeared to find his groove in the first half while scoring 12 points, but the final 24 minutes proved to be much the same as they have been over the past week. Rose was getting double-teamed almost every time down the floor, usually with the much longer Paul George leading the way.

It's a look the Miami Heat have used in years past, with LeBron James leading the charge on Rose, and one the 25-year-old guard will continue to see until he figures out how to beat the traps.

"It's not a problem for me," Rose said. "I've been getting double-teamed for a couple of years now. I just got to make the game simple: When it comes to a double-team, make the easy play and let my teammates work on the back side, the offensive side. But for me, I have to make the easiest play possible. But I'm overthinking it sometimes and that's leading to turnovers."

Rose now has 21 turnovers over his first four games. Obviously, those numbers will go down once he gets a better feel for playing again after missing the past year and a half while recovering for knee surgery. But the question for Thibodeau and the Bulls remains the same against good teams like Indiana. If Rose doesn't have it going or is being forced to give up the ball with double-teams, where else will the Bulls turn?

Thibodeau doesn't sound concerned about that at the moment. Maybe he should be.

"We got to work and we got to work together," Thibodeau said. "That's the big thing: We've got to work together. That's how you build chemistry. That's how you learn how to play off each other. That's how you learn how to cover for each other.

“For us right now, we're inconsistent. We have a good quarter, bad quarter, good quarter, and you can't win in this league like that."