The Chicago Bulls find themselves playing their worst basketball of the season in the midst of a stretch where anything but their best might not be good enough.
The struggling Bulls continue their challenging slate Thursday night when they host the streaking San Antonio Spurs.
After opening an unforgiving six-game stretch with a 107-99 loss to Atlanta on Saturday, Chicago (27-16) fell 108-94 at Cleveland on Monday for its sixth loss in eight games. The upcoming slate doesn’t get much easier, as the Bulls follow Thursday’s contest with matchups against Dallas, Miami and NBA-best Golden State.
"We’ve got to decide when enough is enough," coach Tom Thibodeau told the team’s official website. "We’re going to look at everything, come in, look at the film, get to work; we’ve got to get better. It’s that simple. The way we are playing is not acceptable, so we’ve got to change it."
The Bulls’ failings have coincided with some of their worst defensive play in several seasons. Chicago has surrendered more than 100 points in five consecutive games for the first time since Thibodeau took over in 2010-11.
Over the last eight games, the Bulls have let their opponents shoot 49.0 percent – one of the worst marks in the league over that two-week stretch.
Injuries may be partly to blame. Joakim Noah has missed the last three with a sprained ankle and is doubtful Thursday, while Mike Dunleavy is questionable after missing the past 10 games with an ankle ailment. Rookie Doug McDermott, who hasn’t played since Nov. 30 due to a knee injury, is probable.
The injury excuses, however, don’t mean much to Derrick Rose, who spent nearly all of the past two seasons on the sidelines watching the Bulls continue to be a top-five defensive team.
"It’s just that no matter who is on the floor or who is out or who is coming back we just have to compete," Rose said. "My biggest thing is competing and making sure we let the opponent know we’ve come to play. We’re midway through the season; it’s no excuses."
San Antonio (27-16) dealt with a similarly poor stretch through much of December, but the reigning champs enter Thursday’s contest trending upward. After losing nine of 14 contests, the Spurs have won four straight and eight of 10, most recently beating Denver 109-99 on Tuesday.
"We were missing some players, still we didn’t like what we were seeing," Manu Ginobili said. "We didn’t play well enough so we worked on it. Don’t believe we’ve fixed the issues, it’s a process. We’ve won four in a row but it doesn’t mean we’re good to go now."
Kawhi Leonard has provided a much-needed boost since rejoining San Antonio’s lineup. After missing 15 games with a hand injury, Leonard has averaged 16.3 points and 9.3 rebounds over the last three contests.
Tony Parker will look to build on his 18-point, seven-assist performance against the Nuggets after averaging just 9.6 points and 3.0 assists in his first seven games back from a hamstring injury that cost him much of December.
"It’s coming back," Parker said. "I’m still mad at myself because I missed some easy stuff (Tuesday). I just have to be patient. It’s only my seventh game back."
Parker had 20 points in both games against the Bulls last season as the visitor won each time. Jimmy Butler averaged 21.0 for Chicago.