The tape Fred Hoiberg's team watched during Sunday's film session at the Advocate Center wasn't pretty, two days after the Bulls' 121-105 loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
But the road loss came at the end of a season-high six-game win streak in which the Bulls played their best basketball of the year on both ends of the floor. That streak, part of a larger stretch when the Bulls won seven of nine dating back to Christmas Day, has vaulted them to second place in the Eastern Conference, and just 2.5 games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers.
So while Hoiberg wasn't pleased with some of the defensive breakdowns stemming from miscommunications in the loss, the Bulls still find themselves in good position heading into a stretch of four games in five nights.
Still, those defensive miscues are something Hoiberg saw pop up "the last few games," not just in Atlanta. Whereas the Bulls have figured out a good rhythm offensively, scoring 100 or more points in 10 straight games, it wasn't enough against a Hawks team that shot 52 percent and made 10 3-pointers, racing out to a 13-point halftime lead. Those struggles were the focal point Sunday.
"A lot of it right now, we’ve got some breakdowns because of a lack of communication and we’re not getting into our ball screen coverages quickly enough, our transition defense we’re not getting matched up properly, a lot of the basics," Hoiberg said. "It’s a lot of the things we were doing in training camp that have slipped a little bit the last couple games."
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In their last nine games, beginning with a Christmas Day win over the Thunder, the Bulls rank seventh in offensive efficiency (108.0), with Jimmy Butler's 24 points and 6 assists per game leading the charge. But the defense has faltered some in that stretch from their torrid start to the year; in that span they've allowed 102.7 points per 100 possessions, nearly four points worse than their 99.0 season average - but still 12th in the NBA in that span.
Those defensive lapses were covered up by impressive scoring numbers during much of their hot stretch, but against the Hawks a slow start offensively proved lethal. The Bulls scored 19 points in the first quarter, and a good third quarter was negated by a fourth quarter in which they went 8-for-22.
"We let their pressure bother us too much. Once we started getting some energy and movement out there I thought we had a good offensive third quarter. It’s got to be constatnt for 48 minutes, and that’s what it has been. We’ve been much better on that end, our ball movement, player movement has been better, just have to continue with that.
"Defensively I think we have slipped a little bit. We’ve got to get those principles back."
The defense should see an improvement with the expected return of Joakim Noah, who could rejoin the rotation after missing nine games with a sprained shoulder. They'll need all hands on deck with a busy week upcoming, and Hoiberg admitted he could stretch his rotation to help combat tired legs.
"Couple guys may enter the rotation and hopefully getting Jo back will help with that. It’s hard but you’ve got to manage those minutes as best you can and just take it one day at a time."