The Bulls were going to have a hard time winning Monday night's games before it had even started.
Nobody knew how much trouble it would be until it was over.
Hawks 116 Bulls 92.
If you were wondering if the Bulls could survive without Deng and Noah for an extended amount of time, you've got your answer: No.
The Bulls battled hard for most of the game and they deserve credit for that, especially considering that they had to play a stretch in the first and second quarters without Derrick Rose, who banged knees with Mike Bibby early in the game.
Having said that, it's much easier to understand why Vinny Del Negro is trying to so hard to get Deng, and especially Noah, back on the court. The Bulls have pretty much no chance to consistently win without them.
All you had to do was look at the rebounding totals for confirmation of that point. Hawks 63, Bulls 37.
"First of all, we have to get Joakim and Luol back," Del Negro said. "Atlanta [has] a very athletic, strong front line. They're young and they have hurt us before. Obviously, that was the difference in the game. They would miss and go get it and control the tempo of the game."
Simply put, the Bulls don't have enough talent to win games without Deng and Noah. The miss the scoring punch that Deng can provide and they miss the energy that Noah delivers on a nightly basis.
"Yeah, it hurts you a little bit, but there are no excuses," Rose said of his injured teammates. We still have to go out and play the game. We put up a fight at the beginning of the game, but then they just got away with it. They're very tough. They switch almost everything.
"We need [Deng and Noah] back quick. We need them on the floor. They help the team a lot. They rebound the ball, score well. They help us."
But when will they be able to help again? If the Bulls don't get both of them back soon, they will be in serious danger of sliding out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, especially with a daunting eight-game stretch against quality opponents staring them in the face.
"I'm sure Joakim will be out for another week and then it is day-to-day," Del Negro said. "I expect Luol to be able to play on Thursday. His knee was really stiff and swelled up a little more. With a couple days in between, the first time we've had that for a while, we'll see if we can get the swelling out of there and be ready to play on Thursday."
With Noah's season in a constant state of flux due to plantar fasciitis, it's imperative that Deng returns quickly.
"It's real important," rookie Taj Gibson said. "Lu's [Luol Deng] one of the leaders of this team. Having him on the court is reassuring because he's one of the leaders. He's a guy that keeps guys up. A phenomenal shooter. But, guys have to step up. You never know. Any given night a guy can get hurt. It's just up to guys to just fill the [void]."
After Monday night's performance, it's clear that without Deng and Noah that void is bigger than ever.
Rose is OK: For the second straight game, Rose banged his knee against an opponent. On Saturday night in Indiana it was Earl Watson. On Monday night, it was Bibby. After a brief scare, Rose said he is fine.
"I'm kind of sore, but it's just regular injuries," he said. "We bumped knees again and this time he really hit the kneecap."
Rose admitted that after he hit his knee again he thought about sitting out for the rest of the night, but then he got a pep talk from one of his biggest fans -- his brother, Reggie.
"I thought about it a little bit," he admitted. "Then my brother came back there and was talking about [how] great players play through [pain] when they're hurt. I didn't want to hear his mouth, so that's what made me go out there and try to play."
Noah update: Noah knows that the ultimate goal is being able to contribute in the playoffs and he is keeping his eyes on that goal and he continues to rehab his way back.
"I got to play healthy," he said before the game. "I'm not healthy right now and I probably won't play healthy until the end of the season. I won't be 100 percent, but at least I'll be able to play when it matters. That's the goal."
Line of the night, Part One: Brad Miller on the rebounding issues the Bulls faced on Monday night:
"It was 63-37," he said. "If some team wins a game giving up that big of a rebound difference, I'd like to know about it. 22 rebounds offensively, is just way too many [to give up] to that team."
Line of the night Part II: Gibson, on the rigors of the NBA season:
"It's the NBA, it's like a circus you play all the time," he said. "You just have to get used to it. Guys on the team are already used to it. We've had a stretch where we've played up to eight games. And we went 6-2 in the [last stretch]. I'm just looking forward to guys getting back in practice form. And getting healthy. So we can make this last stand.”