CLEVELAND—The blowout losses and "ole" defenses are leading to slumped shoulders, long faces, sulking body language and, finally, simmering frustration bubbling over.
Andres Nocioni and Joakim Noah spent several minutes bickering on the court over a blown assignment during the third quarter of Friday night's dreadful 117-92 loss to the Cavaliers. The players then continued shouting at each other during a subsequent timeout.
Larry Hughes later played peacemaker, pulling Noah aside to try to calm him down.
"When you're playing and losing by 20 points, you're frustrated," Noah said. "In the heat of the moment, things are said. But I don't have any problems with 'Noce.' "
Indeed, the Bulls' problems run much, much deeper than heat-of-the-moment frustration. The effort and resiliency that defined early-season action has disappeared in back-to-back blowout losses.
"I think the effort isn't really there right now," Derrick Rose said.
Added Noah: "Our effort definitely isn't what it has been throughout the season."
Added Nocioni: "We talk a lot about the effort and the defense. But when we come here in the gym, we never do it."
Notice a trend?
LeBron James recorded his 18th career triple-double with 16 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds.
Anderson Varejao shattered his previous career high with 26 points. Ben Wallace set his season high with 13. Sasha Pavlovic posted his season high with 13.
Notice a trend?
"We had relied so much on our bench during those resilient moments," Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said. "Now, those bench guys, some of them are starting and the minutes are different. Our rhythm at both ends isn't great right now.
"For whatever reason, we're not accepting that challenge night in and night out to control some of the other teams' big guys."
The Cavaliers, now 17-0 at home, even played without starting center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who's out possibly a month with a bone chip in his ankle. No NBA team had won its first 17 home games since Orlando and the Bulls did so in 1995-96.
Rose sat for the final 13 minutes 38 seconds, played just 22:20 because of early foul trouble and scored a season-low three points.
"I'm not wearing down at all," Rose said. "I'm only 20."
Ben Gordon's 22 points led the Bulls' offense, while their defense is dog-earing Thesaurus pages in the search of adjectives to describe its woefulness. After scoring 61 first-half points, Cleveland opened the second half with an 11-0 run.
"We're not healthy and we're not playing particularly well," Del Negro said. "We just don't have that extra burst that we had before. We need our captains back ( Luol Deng, Drew Gooden and Kirk Hinrich) and see if they can give us help, which I know they can. I'm expecting them to make a big difference."
Somebody needs to.