The Bulls allowed season highs in points, field-goal percentage, field goals made and assists Saturday night in their 129-117 loss to the Hawks at Philips Arena. Whenever that happens, as it could again in this most dreadful of defensive seasons, the best person to seek inside the locker room is Andres Nocioni, whose passion typically distills matters to the elemental.
"It's personal, you know?" Nocioni said, barely hiding his disgust. "Everybody needs to take the challenge. If we don't play 'D,' we will be out of the playoffs for sure. Today was terrible, terrible defense."
Indeed, when a team posts season highs of its own with 54.4 percent shooting and 60 percent three-point shooting, that's typically enough to win. Instead, the Bulls dropped their seventh straight road game and must win Monday at New Jersey to avoid a winless road month.
"We need to stop the ball one-on-one," Nocioni said. "Then nobody helps or crowds guys or takes a charge. So everybody can drive the basket or get offensive rebounds. It's energy. It's attitude. And that's it."
Joe Johnson torched several defenders to score a season-high 41 points. Josh Smith added a season-high 24. One got the feeling Dominique Wilkins, broadcasting courtside at age 48, could have dropped 30 in his street clothes.
"It's definitely not the effort," coach Vinny Del Negro said of the defensive woes. "Guys are playing hard and giving me what they can. Right now, one of our better big guys (Drew Gooden) is out. Lu (Deng) is out. Kirk (Hinrich) has been out all year. Defensively, if you don't control the paint in penetration, it's hard to win.
"We changed defenses. When you don't have the length or size or power up front, you have to scramble."
The Bulls did rally from surrendering a 21-2 second-quarter run and trailed just 116-112 after Tyrus Thomas -- a defensive stop! -- blocked a Johnson shot. But Nocioni, gamely playing on painkillers for a sore neck he couldn't turn, missed a three.
Marvin Williams drew a foul on Larry Hughes to score on a three-point play, Hughes forced a miss and then Williams stripped a rebound from Hughes to set up an easy dunk for Smith with 64 seconds left.
Ballgame, although it had been earlier for Joakim Noah, who played just 5:35 in the first half and watched Cedric Simmons take his second-half minutes.
Ben Gordon broke Scottie Pippen's franchise record for career three-pointers, making six en route to 33 points. Derrick Rose rebounded from his debacle in Miami to score 27.
It didn't matter.
"We play so well at the offensive end, but we can't stop anybody," Rose said. "It takes practice. We have principles at the defensive end. Our lack of size gives us challenges. But we have to fight through it. There are no excuses. This is the NBA."