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Bulls have no answers, so they just say 'effort' instead

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Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

I have to admit this is getting annoying, here's Derrick Rose after the Bulls have now lost 6 of their last 8:

"It's the first time I've been on a team like this, going through this problem," Rose said. "I'm trying to figure a way. I wouldn't say (we're) soft. It's the effort."

and Fred Hoiberg:

"Until we understand the urgency we have to come out with, especially at the defensive end, we're going to find ourselves in the same position," coach Fred Hoiberg said. "There's such a fine line in this business of being a great team and a very average team. And we teeter on that line.

"The fire that we had in that comeback is what we have to have. We've had moments when we've had it. But we've had a lot of moments when we haven't."

First of all, I'm not sure that the 'fine line' thing is actually true. Isn't there actually a large gulf between average and great in the NBA? The Bulls seem very far from great, not on the edge.

But my main reason for getting perturbed is saying it's merely effort making that difference. I didn't see that last night, and I think it's just a fall-back to not knowing what's actually wrong (or knowing there's nothing that can be done) so you just figure playing harder will help.

Maybe this is actually giving them too much credit, but I thought they did play with good effort. They made several hustle plays back on defense (especially early) that prevented even more Celtics layups. They won the free-throw line battle. And they crushed the offensive glass, getting 1/3 of every available miss.

The issue is less effort. It's more that they missed a lot and took bad shots, looking easily predictable with the ball. It certainly helps that the Celtics are the best ball-hawking defense in the league, but that's also not effort. An NBA defense can realize that Pau Gasol gets the first couple touches of every half,  Butler and Rose take turns with tunnel-vision, McDermott/Snell can't shoot unless given space and Mirotic misses even with space.

But it's the defense that's become a real issue lately. Here's the defensive rating (nba.com) by month:

BullsByMonth

And again I don't think it's because they're not trying hard. They're just extremely limited as a roster, even moreso with no Noah, Dunleavy, and Hinrich.

Hoiberg mentioned something more specific (and not effort-based) in a lack of transition defensive communication, and that appears to still be happening.

Transition D 1

Transition D 2

And then there are two major holes that I'm not sure can be fixed. One is the big spaniard, and this isn't even to say it's his 'fault'. He's 35, playing a ton of minutes, and nursing injury. You can go down through this whole CelticsBlog post and see how they were carved up, but here are just a couple examples:

Crunch-time D 1

Crunch-time D 2

Crunch-time D 3

Would you consider these effort plays? Maybe it's semantics, but to me it's more a lack of scheme and execution and personnel.

And I don't see it changing much going forward. There's only one fundamentally solid defensive big on this team now and it's Taj Gibson.  There are rotation guys that get absolutely targeted, especially last night, in Doug McDermott and Aaron Brooks. Even E'Twaun Moore was getting posted-up last night, and in what I do think is an outlier he was being punished too. The lack of trust in the fundamentals of others leads to poor discipline from Butler and Rose too on that end.

And they're not athletic enough to generate turnovers. The Bulls are literally the worst in the league at it. Combining that with the defensive rebounding, and the Bulls allow a lot of shots. Unlike the beginning of the year, the opponent isn't missing as much.

I know 'effort'-talk is just player/coach-speak, and something that the team feels they can control, but I guess it's especially disconcerting because it hides how dire the situation is. When the coach talks about the 'fine line' separating his team from great, and credits effort in these double-digit comebacks that shouldn't have to occur every single game in the first place, it somewhat masks the problem. Based on prior results, they could've had some clutch performance to grind out a win, or they somehow catch the Cavs flat-footed tonight and get another good win against an actual great team, but I don't think that changes the real systematic issues with the team either.