LOS ANGELES -- Reality has set in for the Chicago Bulls.
After playing four months of solid basketball, a combination of injuries, offensive ineffectiveness and the constant speculation regarding whether or not Derrick Rose will return to the lineup has taken a toll on Tom Thibodeau's team. Heart and determination can only take a group of players so far -- ultimately talent nearly always wins out.
Right now, the truth for Thibodeau and his team is that they don't have enough talent, especially on the offensive end, to win games against solid teams. That was the case again Sunday afternoon as the Los Angeles Lakers easily dispatched the Bulls 90-81, and will continue to be the case as long as the Bulls continue playing with this lineup.
While Thibodeau's defense didn't hold strong throughout the game and the Bulls got crushed on the glass for the first three quarters, the bigger problem is that the Bulls offense is broken.
Luol Deng, Marco Belinelli and Carlos Boozer combined to shoot just 14-for-47 from the field. Nate Robinson had 19 points, but he also missed 11 shots. Joakim Noah was the bright spot for the Bulls with 18 points and 17 rebounds, but many of his points came from tip-ins and put backs as he continues to struggle with his jump shot.
Without Rose, Kirk Hinrich (foot), Rip Hamilton (lower back) and Taj Gibson (knee), the Bulls offense looks like its perpetually stuck in quicksand. Unless the Bulls play a perfect game defensively they know that they probably aren't going to able to win against better teams. The injuries are harder to overcome than at any other point during the season because the schedule is tougher and almost everybody on the roster is playing with some kind of nagging injury.
"Nobody cares," a frustrated Noah said. "It's no time for excuses. We still got to go out there and play the game, play the game the right way. And I think a lot of it is mental with us. We just get frustrated very easily right now and I think that if we stick together through these hard times I think it's going to make our team that much better."
Noah sounds like he is trying to talk himself into thinking that, though. He knows that his team is at a competitive disadvantage because of all the bumps and bruises and he understands that the season is coming to a close. Once the Bulls start missing a few shots, they look around at each other on the floor and wonder what to do next. Not only are they struggling to actually run plays, but even when they get open looks they miss.
"We're just not making no shots that's all," Robinson said. "Simple as that. We just got to make our shots, we'll be OK. We're in every game, we play hard, we're just not making our shots. We'll be all right. We'll start making them."
Confidence has never been an issue for Robinson, who said after the game, "Right now I'm on a drought, soon I'm going to make it flood," regarding his recent shooting woes, but it is for the rest of his teammates. They spew out Thibodeau's company line saying they have “more than enough to win,” and need to move the ball more offensively, but they don't believe it right now. Their actions speak louder than their words and their actions say that they have lost confidence in this season.
The reality for the Bulls is that they weren't built to contend this season -- it's just that the players didn't start believing that until now. They held out hope that they could keep things going no matter who was out, but the rigors of an 82-game NBA schedule have hit them in the face in recent weeks, and it has shown in their play and on their faces.
"I feel like we can still do better defensively," Noah said. "And we can definitely do better offensively. It's just hard sometimes when ... we're not used to seeing Lu play the four and guys have to play out of position right now. No excuses, though. It's tough but we just got to bounce back and get a W in Sacramento."