CHICAGO -- Fred Hoiberg spoke for only a couple of minutes to the assembled media Monday night after the Chicago Bulls' deflating 114-100 loss to the Washington Wizards. In truth, there really wasn't much for the Bulls' first-year coach to say. The Bulls did what they have done all season -- allowing an undermanned team to come into the United Center and push them around. After the latest setback, Hoiberg dove into an issue the Bulls have had throughout the season.
"It starts with communication," he said. "The guys on the bench talk more than the guys on the floor for whatever reason."
The communication breakdown that was apparent at times early in the season appeared to be getting better in the past few weeks after the Bulls rattled off a six-game winning streak. But in their past two losses, the Bulls have done the same things they've been doing most of the year: getting off to a slow start, playing with low energy, allowing opponents too many second-chance points (the Wizards outscored the Bulls 21-7 in this category). As was the case in Saturday's loss to the Atlanta Hawks, it was too little too late for a Bulls team that continues to struggle in finding an identity.
"Teams are doing whatever they want to do on the floor," Bulls All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler said. "We're not doing what we're supposed to be doing coverage-wise. We're not talking like we're supposed to be talking, and you can really tell. We're just not being the tougher, more physical team."
What seems to infuriate Hoiberg more than almost anything is the fact that for the second game in a row the Bulls got down big early, a 15-point deficit late in the second quarter, and couldn't get back on track. The fact the Bulls did it against a Wizards team playing without Bradley Beal, Marcin Gortat and Kris Humphries only made the 43-year-old coach even more frustrated.
"We did not come out of the gate with the energy we needed to," Hoiberg said. "It is beyond me how that can happen in consecutive games."
Not only has it happened in consecutive games, it has happened off and on throughout the season. The Bulls can't seem to figure out what the antidote for inconsistency is. In recent days the communication issue has been at the forefront of the explanation meter.
"Some players have it more than others," veteran Pau Gasol said. "Some players are quieter than others. But at the same time you got to work on it. You got to force yourself to speak and communicate out there to let your teammate know what's going on, and it's an important factor."
Bulls center Joakim Noah echoed those sentiments. After missing almost a month because of a slight tear in his left shoulder, Noah returned to the lineup and did not register a point (0-for-7 from the field), adding nine rebounds and four assists in 19 minutes.
"We have to get better playing team ball," Noah said. "Especially on the defensive end, getting that help-side in. And just jelling as a unit defensively we have to communicate better, that's for sure. There has to be a level of trust. We work on it every day and we definitely have to get better as a team to get to where we want to get to."
Trust and communication are signs of any good relationship. The Bulls are proving that night after night. When this group displays those two values, they can rattle off a lot of wins. When they don't, games like Monday's will happen.
"I think there's been a handful of painful losses over the year, especially in this building," Gasol said. "And that's something that if you want to be a top team, if you want to be a contender for a title, you just can't afford. Championship teams don't do that -- bottom line."