The Bulls certainly are capable of playing better defense than they did in a 129-117 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday, but the reality is the team's current injury situation greatly reduces its margin for error. Playing without starting forwards Drew Gooden (sprained right ankle) and Luol Deng (sprained left ankle) makes the Bulls even smaller and weaker up front.
''That's going to give us challenges, but we just have to fight through it,'' point guard Derrick Rose said. ''We don't have [any] excuses. This is the NBA. You have to play with the hand you're dealt.''
The good news is Gooden, who has been sidelined since Dec. 19, could be back this week. The bad news is he likely won't be available tonight, when the Bulls complete a four-game road stretch against the New Jersey Nets.
''It's not the effort,'' coach Vinny Del Negro said. ''The guys are playing hard and giving me what they can. It's just right now we have one of our better big guys out and Lu's out and Kirk [Hinrich has] been out all year.
''Defensively, if you don't control the paint and penetration, it's hard to win, especially consistently.''
The players aren't ready to concede anything just yet. When they play as well offensively as they did against Atlanta -- matching their season-high point total on 54.4 percent shooting, including 12-for-20 on three-pointers -- they expect to win.
The focus of the Bulls' practice Sunday at Georgia Tech was finding ways to shore up the defense, regardless of who's in the lineup. On too many occasions against the Hawks, players were caught out of position while scrambling around.
''You have to scramble when you don't have the length or the size or the power up front,'' Del Negro said. ''Our guys worked hard. We changed defenses.''
Still, on too many occasions, things came too easily for the Hawks. Del Negro reacted demonstratively numerous times when the Bulls gave up an easy basket.
''It starts from practice,'' Ben Gordon said of improving the defense. ''We can't expect to figure it out in a game. Practice makes perfect, and we have to carry it over in a game.''
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