The intriguing thing about last year’s Chicago Bulls was how they couldn’t put the ball in the basket. But they still won. Coach Tom Thibodeau became renowned as a defensive mastermind–and a savvy psychologist too, getting zillionaire players to hustle on D like they were trying out for an AAU team. This year the Bulls can fill it up. They added Pau Gasol, former league MVP Derrick Rose is back and Jimmy Butler is scoring like he wants the Bulls to have two MVPs in the locker room.
But Chicago, which looked like the Eastern Conference favorite a month ago, is skidding. They’ve lost 6 of their last 8 and teams are scoring on them willy-nilly. Thibs might lose his mind if it continues. As Kurt Helin reports, in their last five games the Bulls are giving up 113.6 points per 100 possessions. 29th in the NBA. The Bulls miss the presence–and defensive presence of mind–of Joakim Noah, still the player most critical to Chicago’s identity, no matter how many MVPs they might have. Noah’s ankle injury has prevented him from playing in the last six.