Bulls seek to improve early intensity

CHICAGO – The contrast in games was stark.

The Chicago Bulls were looking to go 3-0 for the first time in 16 years after a Friday demolishing of Cleveland, 115-86. Everything went right.

Twenty-four hours later, everything was very wrong.

“It can go from you smiling and jumping around because you think you’re so good, to a team that you think you should knock out of the water and comes in and smacks you in the face,” Taj Gibson said after an 89-82 loss to the New Orleans Hornets on Saturday. “That happened tonight.”

This is the NBA, so maybe it should never come as a surprise when a team stinks up the court, even at home. But coming off a near-perfect performance on Friday, it was simply hard to swallow what happened on Saturday.

“I thought the start of the game set the tone for the game,” coach Tom Thibodeau said after Saturday’s loss. “We were back on our heels.”

The same could have been said after Friday’s game about Cleveland when the Bulls outscored the Cavaliers 32-16 after 12 minutes. On Saturday they trailed 21-18 after the opening quarter and the Hornets never gave up that small lead. One major difference simply came in shooting. On Friday the Bulls shot nearly 64 percent from the field. One night later that number was 33 percent.

“I don’t want to say we lost intensity, you just never know what’s going to happen,” Nate Robinson explained. “We tried to come back. A lot of guys weren’t making shots tonight. Hard to win a lot of games shooting 30 percent. We just couldn’t score.”

Coming into the night the Bulls had not been outscored in any quarter through the first two games. On Saturday, they were outscored in every one of them. Again, there’s the contrast in weekend games. The poor shooting led to them pressing and subsequently playing poor on the defensive end, especially in transition. Whereas the Bulls played the consummate team game the night before, now they were left to individuals simply trying to do too much.

“We were trying to get something going,” Thibodeau said. “That’s when you really have to stay connected as a team. When things aren’t going your way.”

On Friday, that team aspect was on full display. The Bulls had 34 assists on 44 shots made while five players scored in double digits but none more than 19. They also had five different players grab at least five rebounds each. Maybe Saturday goes better if the Bulls are simply making their shots because some of the team numbers weren’t all that bad. They spread out the scoring again and still assisted on a good percentage of their made shots -- there simply weren’t enough of them and when they failed to go down the Bulls failed to rally around each other.

“You could say maybe we weren’t ready to play,” Kirk Hinrich stated. “They put us on our heels early.”

That notion was repeated by Thibodeau and others several times after the loss. In fact, Thibodeau said it’s “how you win” in the league now. Play physical and with a lead. If anything, Saturday was a learning experience. At 2-1, it’s hardly the time to do a lot of soul searching but the weekend is a reminder that things can change on a dime without warning in the NBA. And in this Derrick Rose-less season, the Bulls probably won’t need to be reminded of that very often.

“We played really well yesterday (Friday) and it’s unfortunate because it was a good opportunity for us to go 3-0,” Joakim Noah said. “There’s three games (down), 79 more to go.”