SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The Chicago Bulls gained a reputation last season by playing hard almost every night. Two games into this season, the Bulls are the first to admit they haven't lived up to the standards they set last season.
"I think we can compete harder than we have in the first two games," Bulls center Joakim Noah said after Thursday morning's shootaround. "We know that our goal is to win a championship, and we have to hold ourselves accountable to playing at a championship level. I think that we have a ways to go to get there."
The Bulls take on the Sacramento Kings on Thursday night after splitting their first two games of the season. They kick off a stretch of five games in seven nights, the first of many such stretches throughout this lockout-shortened season.
The condensed schedule will be one of the biggest obstacles for the Bulls to get back to their 2010-11 standards.
"It's early people are still ironing things out," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "The schedule is different. The Lakers already went through their three in a row [stretch]. Boston's had a tough early schedule with travel, road games. Those things do factor into it, particularly where you haven't had your eight preseason games. But that being said, your urgency has to be great because all these games are important. They all carry equal importance, so this game [Thursday] is just as important as the game two months from now. That's the way everyone has to approach it."
That's the message Thibodeau has tried to impart to his players.
"Last year, that was kind of his philosophy," Bulls power forward Carlos Boozer said. "Last season was just to take it one day at a time and one moment at a time because everybody's going to want to talk about this story or want to talk about that story. They want to talk about the summer and want to talk about the lockout ... his focus was just focus on what's right in front of you."
Noah agreed and said the Bulls will get in trouble if they look past their current opponent. In this case, it's the Kings, who beat the Lakers 100-91 on Monday.
"I think it's just taking it one game at a time," Noah said. "You just got to not worry about what's coming and just focus on your next opponent. Right now it's the Sacramento Kings, and we'll worry about what's coming up next, the next day. You can't overlook anybody. People in the NBA, teams are too good. Playing against the Sacramento Kings, there are no guarantees, it's not a guaranteed win. It's a team that beat the Lakers. They have a lot of offensive firepower, they're playing at home, and they're playing hungry against the Bulls so it's on us to come ready tonight."
Boozer, who followed up a 15-point performance in a win over the Lakers with a 6-point outing in a loss to the Warriors on Monday, believes that the difference for the Bulls offensively will come in their assist numbers.
"I think the games we have assist games, that's indicative of our offense and [whether] we're in rhythm or not," Boozer said. "You watched us last year. Most of the games that we were in rhythm we had over 20 assists, maybe over 25 some games. I think that's a good indication of how we're doing offensively."