Fingers can be pointed in many places to explain the Bulls’ troubles at the United Center, where they’re a dismal 2-5 after losing to the Warriors on Saturday.
Quality of opponents. Injuries. Schedule quirks. Head-scratching fouls. The home struggles are especially puzzling in light of the team’s sparkling 10-3 road record.
From Tom Thibodeau on down, though, the Bulls know it’s not where they play; it’s how they play, especially on defense.
‘‘It’s not about home or away,’’ center Joakim Noah said. ‘‘It’s about our defensive intensity, our defensive mindset. We’re scoring plenty. Defensively, we’re not all on the same page.’’
Ten opponents have scored 100 points against the Bulls, very uncharacteristic for a Thibodeau-coached team.
‘‘There’s not a lot of trust right now,’’ forward Taj Gibson said of the defensive downturn. ‘‘We have a lot of young guys, a lot of new guys still trying to figure out the system. We’re not trusting, not having each other’s back for certain things. It’s a small thing you can fix, but you have to get it right right away. These games are going to keep coming.’’
Thibodeau pointed to the injuries that have limited the amount of time the Bulls have had to mesh as a defensive unit.
‘‘We’ve got to get guys working together more,’’ Thibodeau said, mentioning that the team has not had its five starters healthy and practicing together often. ‘‘They have to practice hard together, so they can get used to what they’re doing in a game against a quality opponent.’’
When a defensive-oriented team such as the Bulls has difficulty getting stops, the problem seems to be magnified. Defense, which often is attributed to effort, is supposed to be more reliable than scoring, which can come and go more easily.
‘‘Everybody’s frustrated right now,’’ Noah said. ‘‘We’re better than we’re playing. We have to stay positive. We just have to keep grinding. We have a ways to go, but we all know that. But I feel like we’ll be all right. I feel like if we do what we’re supposed to do, we’ll be able to compete with any of those [top-tier teams].’’
Another big plus is that the Bulls have a roster filled with players who are committed to working hard to improve. And that’s where Thibodeau — who has helped Noah, Gibson and Jimmy Butler become valuable NBA commodities — excels.
‘‘[We have] a lot of work to do,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘We have to get everyone on the same page. We have to build those habits in practice and carry them into the game.’’
Another plus is that stars Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol are all in. Rose still is working to hit his stride after a long string of injuries. And Gasol, who has been delivering on his major-acquisition promise, also is determined to put in the work that’s needed.
‘‘We recognize that we have to do a better job,’’ said Gasol, who had his 12th double-double (22 points, 20 rebounds) against Golden State. ‘‘Defensively, we’re not where we want to be. We have to make a conscious effort to defend better. Teams have gotten their way too easily against us. That has to change.’’
With 15 of their next 22 games at home, the Bulls will have a chance to improve their United Center record.
‘‘We have to turn that around,’’ Gasol said. ‘‘It’s becoming an issue. Your home should be a fortress.’’