NEW YORK – Following the embarrassing Wednesday home loss to the New York Knicks, Fred Hoiberg said he made it a point to challenge his team in the locker room before boarding the charter to the Big Apple.
Just about 24 hours later, not quite the response the first-year Bulls coach was hoping for.
No energy, no urgency, a faint heartbeat, and just like that the lifeless Bulls dropped a second straight game to a now 30-43 New York team, losing at Madison Square Garden, 106-94.
At least one Bulls player had seen enough.
“Hell yeah, I’m embarrassed,’’ veteran forward Taj Gibson said. “I take pride in wearing this jersey. I love wearing a Bulls jersey, especially what we’ve been through. I take pride in playing for Chicago when I wear that jersey. I try and go out there and play my heart out. And it’s frustrating when we come up shot and we look at ourselves when we lose to a – I don’t want to criticize – but trash teams. Everyone is in the NBA for a reason, but we’re playing against teams that aren’t playing for anything and we’re just laying down.’’
The Bulls (36-35) aren’t just laying down lately, they’re flat-out falling down.
The loss dropped them 1 ½ games out of the No. 8 and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race, trailing idle Detroit.
And with 11 games left to play it would seem there’s still more questions than answers.
“It feels like we’re a target,’’ Gibson said. “It feels like teams aren’t taking us serious. Teams are more eager to play us. Where it used to be vice versa. They knew we were coming to punch people in the face and keep playing. It’s hard, man. It really eats me up inside. It’s hard to sleep at night knowing that it’s coming down to the wire and our effort isn’t there. It’s really frustrating.’’
Gibson wasn’t the only one in disbelief that the Bulls have put themselves in this position.
“We have to be able to flip the switch,’’ Jimmy Butler said. “Yeah, it’s frustrating. The majority of us haven’t been in this position since we’ve been in the league. We’ve always been at the top of the Eastern Conference. Right now it’s a fight. But when it’s a fight I think everybody has to man up.’’
The good news on the night was the play of Derrick Rose, who not only scored 30 points on 13-for-23 shooting, but had his first real dunk of the season, going baseline in the second quarter.
The bad news? Everything else, starting with a defense that continued breaking down far too often.
“I think you’re talking about everybody, coaches included,’’ Gibson said. “Everybody has got to look at themselves and see what it is they can do better.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with what we have on paper. You can have six guys that are seven feet tall, but if you don’t have the heart, you don’t have the will, you don’t have the energy to go out there and fight for the guy next to you and fight for the right reasons, you won’t succeed.
“The previous years we fought for each other, we fought for the right reasons. We played hard.’’
Those days seem long ago right about now.