By Brendan McCaffrey-
(CBS) As long as Tom Thibodeau remains the Bulls’ head coach, defense will be stressed, maximum effort required and even a preseason victory by 20 points examined thoroughly. Every game, every practice provides a chance to get better, to move closer to the goal of winning an NBA championship.
“The challenge is to be a 48-minute team,” Thibodeau said Monday night after the 110-90 home victory over the Denver Nuggets. “I keep harping on it. The regular season is going to be here before you know it. We have a lot of guys who are not sharp right now.”
Thibodeau’s words perfectly summarized the first 18 minutes of Monday’s game. Denver opened up an early 30-19 lead after one quarter, with point guard Ty Lawson blowing past Derrick Rose several times to set up teammates, including an active Kenneth Faried. Denver’s lead would balloon to 21 with 5:25 left in the first half before the Bulls finally clamped down on the defensive end. They would finish the half on a 29-8 run to even the contest heading into the break.
The Bulls managed to shake loose of the Nuggets in the second half once most starters exited the game, cruising to the easy victory.
Not that the win mattered much to Thibodeau, who seemed displeased with a defense that gave up 58 first-half points.
“We need to get an edge,” he said. “We don’t have an edge right now.”
That’s Thibodeau-speak for “play better defense.” That starts with Rose. Chiseling off rust or not, Rose must have a better effort on that end of the floor. Lawson found his way into the paint as often as he liked, totaling six assists in the first half. With the likes of Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and other point guards on the schedule in the regular season, Rose won’t have any easy nights. There will be no shortcuts.
Rose didn’t address reporters after the game, but his teammates understand the expectations set by their coach.
“(Thibodeau) is always pushing buttons, and I think it’s a good thing,” Joakim Noah said. “There is nothing comfortable about what we do, and as soon as you get comfortable you get your (butt) kicked. I think he’s just trying to make sure we stay on edge and keep working hard.”
Noah had a fairly quiet game with five points and six rebounds as he works his way back from offseason left knee surgery. His teammate in the frontcourt, Pau Gasol, added four blocks in 24 minutes of playing time and addressed expectations after the game as well.
“We all have the objective in our minds,” Gasol said. “We all would like to do as much as we can from this point on to try to get to a championship level. Right now I think we are hungry, and that’s a good thing.”
Brendan McCaffrey is the sports direction at 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @b_mccaffrey.