The Bulls are 26-13 and comfortably in first place in the Central Division.
Coach Tom Thibodeau doesn’t think so. He lives in a glass snow globe with tiny basketballs floating about instead of snowflakes and a miniature glass backboard where Santa’s sleigh should be.
His world is one of maximum effort at all times, resting only to rack those miniballs and start a new drill. And he’d prefer that most of those drills didn’t even have a ball involved.
Defense. Effort. Teamwork. Focus. Desire. Move your damn feet! He wants his team to battle the best teams into submission and beat the crap out of the lousy teams.
And the Bulls aren’t doing that. Not the second part, anyway. After getting beaten by the lowly Magic 121-114 on Monday night at the United Center, the Bulls have lost seven games to teams below .500, with five of those coming at home.
For a club fancying itself a title contender, that’s ridiculous.
And Thibs doesn’t do ridiculous very well.
‘‘Either you’re in the circle or you’re out of the circle,’’ he said angrily after the loss to the Magic, a team that came in with a six-game losing streak, in last place in the Southeast Division.
The circle, we’ll assume, is an important place for Thibs. Maybe sacred. The triangle was huge for Phil Jackson, Big Chief Triangle. Geometric shapes. Hmmm. Shall we call Thibodeau Captain Circle?
‘‘You want to be in [the circle]?’’ Thibs finished. ‘‘Let’s go. You don’t want to be in? That’s fine, too.’’
Oh, no, no, no. Not fine.
When coaches say stuff like that, they really mean: I’ll run you guys till you puke. Or, you’ll be traded after the season. Or, worst of all: I’ll bench your lazy butt.
A defensive expert, Thibodeau can’t stand it when his team doesn’t give the effort that will stop the foe. Shooting slumps happen. Not moving your feet or blocking out or fighting for every spot on the floor — those things should never happen in Tom’s World.
For Thibodeau, everything comes down to defense, and letting a team such as the Magic score 121 points? Well, how do you do it?
You must be outside that circle, is how.
So whom do we point to, if anyone?
Well, Pau Gasol is lighting it up offensively and yanking down rebounds at a tremendous rate, but he’s not a great defender. Magic center Nikola Vucevic getting 33 points, 11 rebounds and four assists wasn’t Gasol’s fault, though his 34-year-old legs don’t match up well with a 24-year-old’s.
Which brings us to center Joakim Noah. Though he’s only 29, his knees might be a decade or two older. He has been slowed and hurt and just a shadow of the wild man who won NBA Defensive Player of the Year last season.
Rookie Nikola Mirotic doesn’t play Thibs-style defense yet, but he’s still learning. Mike Dunleavy has been out with a jammed ankle, and he’ll never be a great defender. But that’s not why he’s in town. It’s to play smart and drain threes.
Shooting guard Jimmy Butler gives his all, all the time. If he’s got another gear, it’s overdrive with a supercharger.
Taj Gibson off the bench is pretty dependable, as is guard Kirk Hinrich, though you always wonder what part of his body Captain Kirk will hurt next.
Then we have little guard Aaron Brooks, all 161 pounds of him, who is as fast as a sand flea but hardly a barrier to anyone on defense. And, somehow, we circle around to the guy upon so much with these Bulls depends — Derrick Rose.
Is there a ‘‘D’’ in Derrick? Sometimes we wonder.
His knees are still recovering, and he might never be the man he was when he won the league MVP award, but is his defensive effort there?
Rose doesn’t seem to fight through screens as hard as before, and there are times it seems he’s almost playing streetball, waiting for an outlet pass so he can run to the end of the floor where the fun stuff is. Rose sometimes looks as though he doesn’t really want to bend over and assume that difficult, tense squat position that is at the core of all defensive postures in most sports.
Turnovers are part of defense, too. Protecting the ball. Never getting casual with it. Which Rose does at times.
A turnover is basically worth a point to the other team.
To Thibodeau, it might be a break in the sacred circle.