CHICAGO -- Taj Gibson sat low in his reclinable black chair in a quiet and depressed Chicago Bulls locker room. He couldn't believe that the Bulls, the team that has grinded out win after win this season no matter which players suited up, could fall so flat against such a brutal Wizards' team, losing 87-84 on Monday at the United Center.
"When you give certain guys confidence early, that's what's going to happen," Gibson said. "[Kevin] Seraphin's playing well. You've got a lot of guys on that team playing for their life, trying to just get some minutes and they're taking advantage of it."
The Wizards used the Bulls’ formula against them on Monday night. They slowed the game down, defended down low and absolutely dominated the Bulls in the paint. Led by Seraphin, who had 21 points and 13 rebounds, the Wizards outscored the Bulls 48-22 in the paint. The Bulls players seemed rightfully embarrassed by their lackluster performance. Playing without Derrick Rose (foot) and Luol Deng (ribs) the Bulls still had more than enough to win -- and they knew it.
"They played a lot harder than we did tonight and that was the bottom line," Bulls guard Kyle Korver said. "They got a lot of guys who are playing for their careers and it just goes to show you can win on any night and you can lose any night. Tough game."
Fans will point to the fact that the Bulls still had a chance to win this one in the end, but that glosses over the real point. If it wasn’t for some game-changing shots by C.J. Watson and Rose over the last few games, the Bulls would be on a three-game losing streak. They haven't been playing well for a while and that fact wasn't lost on any of Tom Thibodeau's players.
While there wasn't a sense of panic in the locker room, there was a renewed sense of urgency. With just five games left, the Bulls know they must come back and play with more focus than they've shown over the last week.
"The game wasn't lost at the last possession," Bulls guard Rip Hamilton said. "We got to do a better job during the game when we've got a team down. We had a lead by 10, we've got to put them away. It's not just tonight, it's been happening the last couple of games, so we just got to get better at it."
Rip finally plays in crunch time: Speaking of Hamilton, after averaging just a little over 20 minutes since returning late last month from a shoulder injury, the veteran sharpshooter played 34 minutes and felt good about how his body responded after it was over.
"It was cool just to be out there," Hamilton said. "I wanted to win; that's the biggest result at the end for me. But it was good to be out there, playing in the second and fourth quarter."
As for the turnover problem the Bulls have encountered of late -- the Bulls had 17 on the night, Hamilton had four -- he thinks it will fix itself over the next week.
"We just got to take our time," Hamilton said. "I think a lot of times with the turnovers we're trying to over pass, other than take the wide-open shot. We're a very unselfish team, and I think that once we just take the shot that's been given to us, we'll be better."
The last word: Korver, on the idea that the Bulls are limping into the playoffs:
"We don't need to coast into the end of the season. So we've got to win our games, let's go win them. We can win them. We can win every single one. We've got to get healthy, we've got to get some timing. Guys are beat up ... after the New York game it was like the world was crashing down on us, then we won two big games and everything was amazing. We've just got to get back to playing good basketball."