More Disappointing?

SURPRISED
AS EXPECTED

Expected more, even without Derrick

Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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Tom Thibodeau sounds more robotic than ever these days. He still believes his team has more than enough talent to win, despite evidence to the contrary.

The Chicago Bulls entered Wednesday's game against the Dallas Mavericks at 6-7 and losers of four of their past five, including their most disappointing game in a while when they squandered a 27-point, fourth-quarter lead in losing to the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday.

Losing close games because Derrick Rose is sidelined as he recovers from ACL surgery is one thing, but blowing a 27-point lead in the fourth quarter to the Bucks can't be explained away simply because of Rose's absence.

I predicted the Bulls would have 50 wins, and some folks, such as Charles Barkley, agreed with me. Others, such as Jeff Van Gundy, disagreed.

The Bulls were not going to win a championship this season, even with a healthy Rose, but it's as though they forget how to compete at times.

No, they don't have the same group intact. The Bench Mob that many grew to love isn't coming back. But that shouldn't mean the Bulls have to fade away into mediocrity.

They haven't lost games this season just because of Rose's absence, they've lost because the depth that made the team so successful is gone and the core group isn't sure how to win now.

The Bulls are in the type of funk that isn't supposed to affect good teams. On most nights they still have enough talent to win, the problem is they just don't remember how to close right now. The consistency that made the Bulls so different over the past two seasons is gone and Thibodeau is having a hard time bringing it back.

The trust that set this team apart is missing, and veterans such as Luol Deng and Joakim Noah have talked about it openly.

The Bulls should be given time to learn how to play together, but they shouldn't be let off the hook for not playing hard and executing down the stretch. That's what has gotten Thibodeau's team in trouble over the first month of the season and that's why their record feels even more disappointing than anticipated.

Nick Friedell covers the Bulls for ESPN Chicago.

Missing pieces can't be ignored

Greenberg By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com
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The Bulls aren't officially bad yet, but from now until Derrick Rose returns (that is, assuming he does this season), the Chicago Bulls will continue to play ".500 ball." Accept it. Deal with it.

Unless you weren't paying attention when the front office remade the bench in the wake of Rose's injury, and inserted Kirk Hinrich into the starting lineup, this shouldn't surprise you.

Three big reasons why it shouldn't: The Bulls are missing three key figures from the past two years of regular-season dominance: Rose, Omer Asik and Kyle Korver.

Rose is Rose, but the other two subs have left big holes, and that was obvious when they were let go.

Asik's absence has been discussed a lot so let's look at Korver, who spaced the floor and was a heady player on offense.

Last season, with Rose an improved shooter, the Bulls shot 37.5 percent on 3-pointers, with Korver shooting 43.5 percent and five Bulls averaging at least one make per game. Now the Bulls have one player making one a game (Nate Robinson) and are shooting the fewest 3s, 12.6 per game, while making the next-to-fewest, 29.3 percent.

Korver is averaging 11 points a game in Atlanta and making 43.2 percent of his 3s. Marco Belinelli and Hinrich won't replace him.

Shooting isn't the place the Bulls are struggling. Through the Bulls' first 13 games, they are giving up 93.4 points per game. Surprisingly, that's better than in 2010.

In Tom Thibodeau's first season, Chicago got off to an 8-5 start (9-8 on Dec. 3, before going 12-2 to finish the month) and gave up 99.5 points per game. The bench got settled when Carlos Boozer returned and the defense picked up as chemistry improved.

I think the Bulls win 45 games and still manage to take a weak Central Division. Is that good enough for this season? It'll have to be.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.