The Bulls’ victories Friday and Sunday were encouraging after a five-game losing streak, but coach Fred Hoiberg knows the team still lacks one important trait: toughness.
Not only did Hoiberg bring it up several times after practice Tuesday, but he challenged his players to make it right.
‘‘It’s got to come to a point where it bothers you,’’ Hoiberg said when he was asked about getting the Bulls to play with more ferocity. ‘‘When you get outhustled and outworked and knocked out of bounds, that’s where it starts.
‘‘We did a drill [Tuesday] where you have to go hit, have to go make first contact. A lot of times, we’re reacting; we get hit in the back first. Now we’re pushed underneath the basket, and you’re in terrible
rebounding position. They don’t call that a lot. It’s physical; it’s a man’s game. If it doesn’t bother you, it’s going to continue to happen.
‘‘We’ve had games where we rebounded the ball exceptionally well, but lately that hasn’t been our strong suit. You have to finish off possessions. And we’re going to have to if we want to make any kind of push. You have to win those battles.’’
Not only was Hoiberg trying to get his point across with different drills, but he has taken a different approach to his handling of the team as the season has gone on.
‘‘It’s kind of weird because he really doesn’t want to get after guys,’’ forward Taj Gibson said. ‘‘But lately he’s been in guys’ tails. It’s been real fun. I appreciate it. That’s the kind of things we need, especially [Tuesday] morning in practice. I told him I appreciate it.’’
Gibson agreed the Bulls have to pick up their toughness, and he said it’s up to the players to make sure it’s carried out consistently.
‘‘It starts in practice,’’ Gibson said. ‘‘Veterans, we have to do a better job of leading the young guys even better. We have to make it tough on them; they have to make it tough on us. I think lately the practices have been great. Fred did a great change of how he goes about it. He’s been even tougher. He’s been cursing guys out. I’m enjoying it.’’
Maybe that’s what guard Jimmy Butler meant when he said Hoiberg needed to ‘‘coach harder’’ a couple of months back.
‘‘The big thing is, we gotta get a little nastier defensively,’’ Hoiberg said. ‘‘We’re not hitting guys. The Lakers would get a stop [Sunday], get the loose ball or the offensive rebound. We need to do much better with the 50-50 balls. We’re losing that battle pretty much every night right now.
‘‘That’s gotta be a big thing is the toughness, both physical and mental. We got up [19 points] the other night and just kind of let off the gas. You gotta pounce on teams when you get them down and put them away.’’
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