The Bulls finished their lockout-shortened training camp feeling confident they'd be a step ahead of opponents.
They brought virtually everyone back from a 62-win team, which figured to be an advantage.
Instead, they've been two or three steps behind, especially on defense.
The Bulls' 99-91 loss at Golden State late Monday was much worse than the final score suggested. They trailed by 18 points with just less than nine minutes remaining before launching a late-but-futile comeback.
The Bulls couldn't contain Golden State guards Monta Ellis (26 points) and Stephon Curry (21 points, 10 assists, 6 steals). Those two combined to hit 17 of 29 shots from the field.
"We're not going to get to where we want to get to playing defense like that," center Joakim Noah told reporters after the game. "We have to improve. It's frustrating. Our defense was just bad."
Needless to say, coach Tom Thibodeau felt the same way.
The game got away from the Bulls' defense early. The Warriors missed their first 3 shots, then hit 11 of their next 13 to open a lead they never relinquished.
"You give a team like that easy baskets, their confidence goes way up and they are not easy to stop after that," Thibodeau said. "We can't play like that.
"We have to play defense, rebound, and we've got to take care of the ball. They're jumping out on pick and rolls and we're not protecting the ball and that's what happens."
Another contributor to the early deficit was the Bulls coughing up 14 turnovers in the first half, creating a flurry of Golden State fastbreak baskets.
With the Bulls playing catch up, Carlos Boozer, Noah and Richard Hamilton sat out the entire fourth quarter. Boozer finished with just 6 points and 3 rebounds, while Hamilton scored all 10 of his points in the first half.
Derrick Rose capped off the furious comeback against the Los Angeles Lakers by hitting the game-winning floater with 4.8 seconds left. A day later in Oakland, he hit 4 of 17 shots for 13 points and 8 assists.
After the contest, Rose told reporters he's planning to be more aggressive at the start of games. Sitting back and taking what the defense allows is not producing the desired results.
"I think in the first quarter I've got to establish myself a little bit more," Rose said. "I see that being laid-back is just not doing it.
"I think both games in the first quarter I shot the ball just one or two times. I see that approach is not working. So next game I've got to change it up."
Before Monday's loss, Luol Deng admitted to bulls.com that it's a different experience heading into the season with high expectations. Deng was one of the bright spots for the Bulls at Golden State, with 22 points and 10 rebounds.
"You put us on paper and it sounds great," Deng said. "Last year we worked well together, and coming into this year we know it works.
"There are teams chasing us. They watch ESPN. But you can't get caught up in the hype. Guys are coming at us with their best. We still have to do what got us here."
Last season the recipe for success was flawless team defense, a deep bench and plenty of Rose. It took time for the Bulls to develop defensively, so there's no reason to think they can't do as well this season.
But the first two games were not what the Bulls expected.
They were soundly outplayed by the Lakers in the second half before pulling out the win with the late 17-5 run. Keep in mind, the Warriors lost their opener to the Clippers and the Lakers were beaten by Sacramento on Monday. These opponents were not the NBA's best.
The Bulls will get two days off before finishing the opening road swing against the Sacramento Kings on Thursday and L.A. Clippers on Friday.
"I guess we weren't too focused. I don't know what it was," Rose after losing to Golden State. "We just don't want one of these nights again anytime soon.
"What I'm real concerned about is us being able to get easy baskets. Last year we rarely got them. This year we have to find a way."
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