CLEVELAND — Coach Tom Thibodeau poured praise on point guard Derrick Rose before Monday’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the anticipated nemesis of the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference.
Then the Cavaliers manhandled Chicago, 108-94, and Rose peppered the team with flammable remarks.
“Everybody has to be on the same page,” Rose said. “Until then, we’re going to continue to get our butt kicked. It’s the whole team. We’re not communicating when we’re on the floor. Everybody’s quiet. We’ve got to give a better effort. It seems like we’re not even competing.”
The Bulls are without Joakim Noah, the inspirational and emotional leader, and the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year. Without Noah in the middle of the lane, teams are finding it easier to get to the rim. But intensity is lacking across the board for a team defined by Thibodeau’s gritty, grinder personality.
Chicago and Cleveland were expected to be the top two teams in the East this season. Instead, the Bulls (27-16) own the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference, while the Cavs (22-20) are sixth in the East.
Both had their problems of late. The Bulls lost Monday for the fourth time in the past five, and the Cavs still have the scars from their recent skid.
Cleveland is showing signs of pulling out of it. James is averaging 31.8 points since missing two weeks with an injured knee and back, and the Cavs are 3-1 since his return.
“I feel good. It’s the best I’ve felt all year,” James said. “I just want it to continue and keep riding this wave.”
The Bulls are still floundering. Thibodeau was upset his team was slow to get back in transition, was outrebounded 54-40 and wasn’t defending the way he wants. Things don’t get easier, either. The Bulls’ next four games are against the San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, Miami Heat and Golden State Warriors.
“We’ve got to decide when enough is enough,” Thibodeau said. “We’ve got to get better. It’s really that simple. The way we’re playing is not acceptable, so we have to change it.”
If not, Thibodeau’s job could soon be on the line. Rose said missing players such as Noah and Mike Dunleavy are not excuses.
“We’re midway through the season,” Rose said. “That should be a part of (the discussion). There’s no excuses. My biggest thing is competing. Playing this game for so long, when you don’t have that edge, we’re going to keep getting our ass whupped.”
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