Remember when the Bulls went down to Orlando and gave the rest of the NBA a terrifying vision of Tom Thibodeau’s defense?
Even with Derrick Rose on the shelf, the Magic collected just 59 points and lost by 26.
Well, that happened a week ago and the storyline has changed quickly.
Since the game in Orlando, the Bulls survived a couple of close calls against Toronto, then never came close to stopping the Denver Nuggets on Monday while suffering a 108-91 loss, their worst of the season.
“It all starts with playing hard,” Kyle Korver said after the contest. “We just didn’t have our edge tonight.”
Bad nights are bound to happen once in awhile. The Bulls (40-11) still own the league’s best record and are 12-5 while playing without Rose this season.
Rose (groin strain) and Richard Hamilton (bruised right shoulder) should return to the lineup soon, but probably not in time for Wednesday’s game in Atlanta. So the Bulls need to find a way to recreate their defensive magic against a tough opponent.
How to make that happen is the sort of challenge that keeps coaches glued to the video screen from sundown to sunrise. Against Orlando, the Bulls seemed locked into the defensive game plan from the opening tip, and they never let up.
Guard John Lucas III insisted coaxing a great defensive effort is never that simple.
“We’re locked in every game,” he said. “It’s hard to explain. You can’t explain it as a player. It’s just one of those games where everything seemed to go their way (Monday). We were right there into it, but we just couldn’t get those stops to get us over the hump. That’s what I saw tonight.”
Lucas didn’t even buy into the theory that the Bulls didn’t have their usual mental edge against Denver.
“We have the edge. Everybody hates losing,” he said. “It’s just one of those games. They have offense everywhere. We couldn’t get stops.”
Luol Deng essentially agreed with the Lucas analysis.
“We’ve got to focus better throughout the whole game,” Deng said after the Denver loss. “Things weren’t going our way and we kind of allowed it to happen. That’s not what we do.
“We’re a desperate team, too. We’re hungry to win every game. There are no excuses. Tonight was their night. They played harder than us and played smarter than us.”
When things go wrong for the Bulls, it’s usually an extreme case. The majority of their 11 losses have been by double digits. The closest thing to a narrow loss on the results sheet is 4 points (at Miami and Boston).
Before Monday, the Bulls were 25-0 when they shot 45 percent of better from the field. They were at 47.3 percent against the Nuggets, so that’s one streak down the drain.
Another long streak will be on the line against Atlanta. The Bulls have gone 83 games without losing two in a row, the fourth-longest in NBA history, according to STATS, LLC.
The Bulls have 15 games remaining — eight at home, seven on the road; 10 against opponents that currently are .500 or better; and two against Miami, which trails the Bulls by 2 games in the loss column for the Eastern Conference lead.
“Each game counts,” Lucas said. “Playoffs are right around the corner and we want homecourt advantage throughout the whole playoffs.”
“(The defense) is something we need to clean up. I know (Thibodeau) is going to address us with it and you’ll see a difference on Wednesday.”
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