There is plenty of evidence to support coach Tom Thibodeau's claim that the Bulls lost their usual fight during Monday's 99-93 loss to Houston.
The Rockets scored 19 points in just more than five minutes to start the fourth quarter. Once the Bulls fell behind by 14 and turned up the defensive intensity, they gave up 2 points in the next six minutes.
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"If you defend, you rebound and you keep your turnovers down, regardless of how you shoot the ball, you're going to be in position to win," Thibodeau said after the game. "Right now we're bogged down scoring. If we do those other three things, we'll be in position to win.
"But right now we're not defending, we're turning the ball over, and we're not scoring. You can't win like that. We've got to correct that. That's the first step."
So the Bulls lost two in a row for the first time since February 2011. They haven't met the challenge against a couple of teams desperate to claim a playoff spot, Houston and Denver, in the past eight days.
Luol Deng has picked up his offensive production, with four 20-point games in the last six, while C.J. Watson is shooting 21.9 percent from the field in the last four contests.
More challenges are on the way. Boston, 15-5 in its last 20 games, visits the United Center on Thursday. Then the Bulls play two in a row against New York, which has its hands full trying to hold off Milwaukee for the final playoff spot in the East. Finally, Miami pays a visit April 12.
The truth is, though, none of this is going to matter once the playoffs start at the end of the month.
Remember last April? The Bulls rolled through the end of the regular season with a nine-game winning streak, then needed a miracle comeback to beat eighth-place Indiana in Game 1 of the playoffs.
Miami has gone 3-7 in its last 10 road games, and its supporting cast is shaping up as a massive failure. Then again, a potential Bulls-Heat rematch in the Eastern Conference finals wouldn't begin until late May. There's plenty of time for the Power Trio to smooth out the sand.
In theory, the Bulls would prefer to have homecourt advantage for a Game 7 against Miami. But history has shown finishing first in the standings isn't an overwhelming advantage. Just once in the last nine seasons has the top seed in the East advanced to the NBA Finals (Boston in 2008).
The only thing that really matters for the Bulls right now is getting Derrick Rose healthy. He could have erased all of Monday's problems against Houston with a few driving lay-ins down the stretch.
Rose is expected to miss his 12th straight game Thursday with a groin strain. Whether the injury is, in fact, a strain, pull or tear, it has been more serious than expected.
But Rose has been running and shooting for more than a week, so it appears to be just a matter of time before he's back on the floor.
Taking extra caution to make sure Rose is completely healthy is the proper game plan. Whenever he comes back, it shouldn't take long to return to his usual form.
But the Bulls set the bar high by beating Miami, Orlando and Atlanta on the way to a 14-7 record without Rose. So Thibodeau expects more than they showed Monday.
"To me, that's the convenient excuse," Thibodeau said. "At this time of the year, you can say injuries, you can say condensed schedule. What else is there? The fact of the matter is, we lost the last two games because of our mistakes. Not because of injuries, not because of Derrick, not because of any of that.
"Everyone in the league right now is dealing with injuries. Everyone has the same schedule. We have to have a determination that we're going to get it done, regardless of what the circumstances are. I think the teams that succeed in this league find a way to win, and that's what we have to do."