Life was much easier for the Bulls and Joakim Noah in December and early January, when they were winning 13 of 15 games and had a good grasp of what kind of team they were.
What they’ve become since is anyone’s guess.
“I’m not sure; I just know our defense isn’t very good right now,’’ Noah said of the recent struggles. “We’ve just got to keep working at it. We saw the film. The energy wasn’t very good the last couple of games. We’re playing against some tough teams, so we’ve just got to come with the right mindset and come out with some W’s.’’
But not Wednesday against the Washington Wizards.
Despite a season-high 32 points from Derrick Rose, the Bulls (26-14) dropped to 1-4 in their last five games as the Wizards beat them 105-99 at the United Center.
It was a much better showing than Monday against the Orlando Magic, but it was another loss nonetheless.
“The thing is, somehow what gets lost is there’s this thing where people overlook practice, they overlook the regular season, ‘the homecourt’s not that important,’ ’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Well, if you study the records of homecourts in Game 7s, it is important. Everything matters, every day matters, and championship teams have an understanding that everything matters.’’
Thibodeau is still hoping his players start understanding that concept.
Playing his best first quarter since 2012, Rose definitely got it. Right off the tip, he was in attack mode, scoring 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting in the first quarter, including a halfcourt three-pointer at the horn.
Rose was efficient and played the entire first quarter for the first time this season with Thibodeau trying to ride his hot hand.
“I was just trying to get us going,’’ Rose said. “I’ve been working a lot, working on my game a lot, just trying to improve every game, but trying to give us a boost.’’
The Bulls had a 50-44 lead at halftime but started the third quarter with Noah sidelined with a right-ankle injury.
And the game changed in the third, when the Wizards took advantage of poor defending to score 32 points and take a 76-69 lead.
‘‘Obviously, [losing Noah] was a factor,’’ Pau Gasol said. “We were up when he was in there, and we were down when he wasn’t. Jo does a lot of things for us defensively. It was unfortunate that he wasn’t able to play.’’
Thibodeau isn’t much into the excuse game, however.
“Our team played well in the first half,’’ he said. “Then in the second [half], we didn’t sustain it. We’ve got a lot of work to do to get it straightened out. The same things — energy. We lacked energy on both sides of the ball. It’s something we have to correct.’’
Rose admitted that there are concerns, but he wasn’t about to start panicking.
“We didn’t lose 20 games now; we only lost two,’’ Rose said. “I think it’s just communication, miscommunication on the defensive end.
“We’ve lost two, play Friday and Saturday. We’re over .500. We just have to tighten up some things.’’