The Bulls are in a state of change now more than a week out from the Luol Deng trade. Things are not the same for Chicago.
Yes, the Bulls are playing extremely well and getting wins, but the team's defense these past five games has taken quite the nosedive. The 125 points the Bulls gave up in triple overtime somewhat masks the nearly 100 points they gave up in regulation. That is not who Chicago typically is.
In the Bulls' last five games, they have posted a 99.2 defensive rating, slightly above their season average of 98.0. But consider that during their strong 2012 season when many had them pegged as able to defeat the Heat, their defensive rating was at 95.3.
Clearly Chicago is better than it was last year without Derrick Rose, but nowhere near its peak defense.
Losing a strong perimeter defender like Luol Deng and getting virtually nothing in return while still waiting on Rose is going to keep things in turmoil. Chicago very much has to get back to basics and become a teamc ommitted to defense yet again.
Tom Thibodeau is a taskmaster when it comes to defense and his team is still finding its groove on that end of the floor (from an article I wrote for CSN Chicago):
I think we’ve shown we’re capable of being a terrific defensive team. Obviously, we didn’t play very well defensively. To me, the challenge is to correct that before it costs us. We had good fortune. Right now, we’re not playing 48 minutes of defense. Especially on the road, that’s tough. We have to come out at the start of the game and set the tone with our defense.
To survive yet again without Derrick Rose and now without the consistency that comes from Luol Deng on the offensive and defensive end, the Bulls will have to get better on that end.
At 18-19 the Playoffs, and a high Playoff seed at that, are still very much in reach. While the suspicion is that this team will blow things up and hit the reset button, there are a lot of veterans accustomed to winning and still see the anything-goes-nature of the Playoffs as an opportunity too easy to pass up.
"I felt like when [Deng] did get traded we were playing well and we just carried it over," Kirk Hinrich said. "We feel like we dug ourselves a little bit of a hole. Every game counts the same. We're going to try to win as many as we can. Try to get into the Playoffs and get some positioning."
To dig themselves out of the hole, defense will be the only way out. Hopefully there will be fewer three overtime efforts to get there.