Without much doubt, the story of the Bulls' 97-85 loss to Philadelphia on Monday was the lack of defense at the start of the contest. The Bulls fell behind by 23 points in the second quarter, then tried to mount another one of their furious fourth-quarter rallies, but this one never got closer than 4 points.
This game figured to be the toughest test before Boston visits on April 7. When the Sixers are playing well, the Bulls struggle to guard Thaddeus Young and Andre Iguodala. This was their first loss at the United Center in more than two months.
Here are a few leftovers from a night when the Bulls ended their 14-game home losing streak, but kept a two-game lead for first place in the Eastern Conference.
--Coach Tom Thibodeau criticized his players for a poor effort at Monday's shootaround and suggested it carried over into the game. Players on this team are unlikely to challenge anything Thibodeau says. Derrick Rose gave these thoughts about shootround:
"As a player, you don't really think about it like that," Rose said. "As a coach, you see everything. He was just telling us, warning us. It definitely came back and haunted us. Tomorrow we'll get a chance to practice. Usually after we practice, we go on a run."
--Thibodeau didn't exactly criticize Luol Deng after the game, but pointed out that he didn't play well.
In his last two outings, Deng scored a season-low 6 points at Milwaukee, then hit 3-of-11 shots for 10 points against the Sixers, while counterpart Andre Iguodala posted 19 points, 7 assists and 7 rebounds.
Deng skipped a few practices recently because of a thigh bruise. Thibodeau believes Deng plays well when he practices well and Deng didn't disagree.
"I've always said I'm a practice player. When I practice, I play better. I need a rhythm," Deng said. "I'm back practicing now, so I'll get my rhythm back. But this is not about one thing, it's about a lot of things we've got to correct."
--The Bulls bench was outscored 31-14 on Monday, which is a very significant number. It was their largest deficit in bench points since Dec. 26 at Detroit.
The Bulls have counted on the second unit giving them a push in the second quarter, but the Sixers stretched an 11-point lead to 20 before Thibodeau sent Rose back on the floor.
Here's an attempt to quantify the importance of the Bulls' reserves: In the previous 13 games, the Bulls were plus-159 in bench points.
--Kyle Korver failed to hit a 3-point basket in consecutive games since early January. He was a combined 0-for-4 from behind the arc against Milwaukee and Philadelphia.
That's happened just once before this season, when Korver went three games without a 3-pointer against Philadelphia, Boston and Detroit from Jan. 7-10. He was just 0-for-1 during that stretch, though.
--As a team, the Bulls were 1-for-9 from 3-point range against the Sixers, after going 3-for-14 in Milwaukee. Maybe this is a sign Rose tried to do too much Monday.
--Joakim Noah came back from his thumb injury with a flourish, but his numbers slid in recent games. Monday marked his second straight double-double, which could be good news. He had 13 rebounds, 10 points and 3 blocks against the Sixers.
--Look for Miami to move past Boston into second place soon. Those teams were tied after Monday's action.
The Celtics play at San Antonio and Atlanta on Thursday and Friday. Miami has a soft road trip coming up in Cleveland, Washington, Minnesota and New Jersey.
Since the Bulls won the season series against the Heat, they'd have to lose three more times to have a chance at finishing behind Miami, although a three-way tie would probably be bad news.