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Are the Bulls really lacking effort, or are they just not good?

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Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

The Bulls locker room is probably tired of being asked 'what's wrong?' after every loss, especially since there's been so many of them lately.

But it is kind of interesting to see how different players are addressing the slide. Especially on defense, which has just been poor. It's 'effort' at times, sure, but that's also looking like a convenient excuse, as if it's something that can be turned on and off, and not a fundamental systemic problem with the Bulls roster right now.

Rose:

It's (the team's intensity) there. But we can't pick and choose when we want to show it. We've shown glimpses of it throughout the game, but it's all about just playing the whole game together. We're trying to figure out the answer right now. Who knows, but give it time and we'll have the answer. The effort and lack of communication on the defensive side (is a problem). We've been saying this for a couple of weeks now, but it is so true. Teams have 10-0 and 13-0 runs against us and we have to find a way to stop that.

I'm trying my hardest. I'm in control of what I can control and right now I'm trying to lead by example and going out there and giving it my all. It's not a one man sport. It's a team sport, so everyone has to be on the same page somehow, someway.

Pau:

I feel I'm giving it every thing I've got. We really haven't found consistency all year long. It's not a matter of effort; I think it's a matter of working together, communicating and getting the job done. We have to figure out what needs to be done individually and what needs to be done collectively. We all have to look ourselves in the mirror and see what we're doing that's working, what can we do differently because obviously right now we are not playing at our best.

Not to try and manufacture some kind of locker room tension with Rose and Pau insisting they're doing all they can and it's on 'the team' to step up. But Taj Gibson really does seem to think it is an individual effort issue in some cases.

I guess early in the year you [build up] enough confidence, everybody's just constantly telling you how good you are, how good you are, how good you are. And then we believe that we're a strong, offensive-minded team now. Everybody's picked up their game a lot. But I don't know, it's just that when your jump shot is hitting, it's just human nature. Whenever you make a point or you hit a jumper -- or anything offensively -- you just relax on defense, and I think that's what mainly happens with us. But we just got to change it.

And here's the team's defensive (and overall) leader, in a picture painted by Nick Friedell:

Long after most of his teammates had showered, dressed and made their way out of the quiet visitors locker room inside Toyota Center late Wednesday night, Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah sat with his eyes closed and his hands pushed together, still dressed in his game shorts.

A few more minutes went by as Noah alternated between staring off into space and checking the harsh box score returns of his team's third loss in a row, a 101-90 defeat to the Houston Rockets.

"I don't even know what to say"

It is almost a cop-out at this point to say it's just effort. It's probably even more egregious excuse-making to feel like Mike Dun-VP is going to come back and fix the defense. Thibs (who's seemingly more open to mentioning absences as opposed to is usual 'more than enough' mantra) talked about guys being out too much but it's really just Dunleavy missing while Noah looks kind of back to form lately. Taj, somewhat curiously, said it's the most talented team he's been on.

Is it, really? Not on defense.

In the frontcourt, Gasol can't move his feet and it's killing the whole 'string'. ESPN had a pre-game segment about the difference this year on defense, and it was literally a flashing marker on Gasol. For those who think Thibs never makes an adjustment, there was a lot of Mirotic at the three with Noah/Gibson, and they were bad. Josh Smith is often a trainwreck offensively but had enough activity to body up the bigger Bulls while causing havok through his rebounding, passing, and steals. Combining him with Terrence Jones should've given the Bulls a huge (literally) advantage, but that didn't come close to being the case. Mirotic was especially abominable. Teams may have figured out that you can just stick a smaller guy on him, and he's too weak to impose himself physically.

On the wing, the Bulls have a single quality wing defender in Butler, and even he has regressed on that end. There is no depth. It's made worse by Dunleavy's absence, yes, but is a 34 year old on a bad ankle going to come back and save this facet of the team?

Derrick Rose's defense has been poor all year, and last night Patrick Beverley had a big 3rd quarter while Rose just couldn't stay in front of him. Hinrich's lost a step or five, though he's more or less lumped in with the 'crappy wings' group than this one given how he's used. We know Aaron Brooks isn't going to stop anyone.

So what's the answer, here? I'm not sure it's 'playing harder'. A better offense would probably help their defense as well, but do the Bulls turn into the skid and just play more offensive-minded players, hoping between that and Dunleavy's role as savior at least there will be enough shooting to make up for the poor defense? Even if that would help things, I doubt Thibs goes for that. He's going for more practice. And even after some of that, and a supposedly helpful team meeting, it's not getting better.