MIAMI -- Fred Hoiberg's message of playing with defensive intensity and toughness is not getting through to his Chicago Bulls players.
That has been clear throughout much of the season, but never more so than during Tuesday night's 129-111 loss to the Miami Heat. The Bulls are depleted -- playing without Joakim Noah (shoulder surgery), Jimmy Butler (knee) and Nikola Mirotic (hematoma removal), but the issues have run deeper than that for months.
The Bulls don't play with the fight they need on most nights, especially on the defensive end. They've allowed 100 or more points in 14 straight games, the longest such streak for the franchise in 30 years. The Heat shot 67.5 percent from the field, a franchise record for Miami and the highest percentage allowed ever by the Bulls, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
The worst part for the Bulls isn't simply in the embarrassment that comes after so many poor defensive efforts; it's that neither the first-year coach nor the players seem to know exactly what to do to fix the problems.
"We seem to play harder defensively in our practices," Hoiberg said. "And we got to carry that over into the games. Again, we seem to get deflated when the adversity hits us, when things go well for the other team. For whatever reason we don't get tougher during those stretches and that's what you have to do when that adversity hits."
Hoiberg has been talking about these same problems all season. He continues to sing the praises about his team's focus after practices and shootarounds, but that praise is nowhere to be found after games. Fifty-nine games into a lost season, does anyone really believe that the Bulls will finally take their coach's pleas to heart?
Hoiberg discussed the aggression he wants his team to have, but actions speak louder than words. And the Bulls' repeated actions show that the message Hoiberg continues to deliver is not adding up.
"That's got to be our mindset," Hoiberg said of the run the Bulls made to close a 19-point early fourth-quarter deficit to six with 5:13 left. "That's got to be our mindset going into every game. Give up 36 in the first quarter that sets the tone, sets the tone for them, they're confident. And you got to find a way to get some -- I hate to keep saying this -- grit, toughness, determination, nastiness. We just didn't come out of the gate with the right mindset."
The story is always the same for this group. Even when the Bulls were completely healthy they still had too many moments where that defensive mindset -- a strength in years past -- was a weakness.
Pau Gasol called Tuesday's game "a bad defensive effort, a terrible defensive effort on our part," but the scariest part for the Bulls is that while Tuesday's game set records, it wasn't even one of the worst losses they've had this season. There were other games this season where the group simply didn't show up mentally, a fact that Gasol and his teammates know but can't seem to fix.
"We didn't execute the game plan," Gasol said. "We knew this team is a high-scoring team in the paint. They pretty much picked us apart and got a lot of shots that they wanted to get. Just got to do a much better job defensively getting into the bodies, forcing the passes to the weak side ... we got to start hitting bodies and being a little more physical, a lot more physical defensively because teams shooting 67 percent from the field, I think that's pretty outrageous. And it's something we should be aware of and it's something we should correct immediately."
If that sounds like something you've heard before, it's because it is. The answers throughout the season are similar because the attitude hasn't changed. Now the Bulls find themselves in a spot very few expected before the season began -- all the way out of the playoff race. With the loss, the Bulls are now ninth in the Eastern Conference and headed in the wrong direction.
"We've been talking about it for the last couple of weeks," Bulls point guard Derrick Rose said. "Knowing that we were going to be in this position if we continue to lose. I'm just wondering when we're going to say it's enough."
Hoiberg has said it over and over again this season. Problem is, nobody seems to be listening.