Updated: February 15, 2014 6:32AM
There was bound to be a Luol letdown coming. A game in which Luol Deng’s absence finally would be felt after his trade to the Cleveland Cavaliers last week.
It came Monday night in a 102-88
loss to the visiting Washington Wizards. Now the question for a team that has seen obstacle after obstacle thrown in its path is how quickly will it be able to counterpunch.
What’s no longer a question is the mind-set of Joakim Noah. The All-Star center was the most distraught about the Deng trade, and he gave the media the silent treatment until after Saturday’s victory against the Charlotte Bobcats.
“[Bulls brass sees] the game differently than out there on the court,’’ Noah said. “They’re not out there on the court, they’re not on the plane. They don’t know how much Lu meant to me personally. But like I said, I’m not mad at anybody.’’
By Monday, Noah realized that it was time to move on after he made his feelings known.
“Just comments, man, just how I feel,’’ Noah said. “Just in general when you go through hard things as a group, I think it’s all about how you deal with it.
“I mean, I think, like I said, I’m proud of this team. I feel like we’ve been through a lot of adversity, but we’re taking it one game at a time. We appreciate the opportunity to be playing here, and we’re just focused.’’
That focus finally was broken after a five-game winning streak, including three consecutive wins without Deng.
And it wasn’t even close. The Wizards took a 15-point lead before letting the Bulls (17-19) close to within five with 5:28 left. Then they pulled away when Bradley Beal and John Wall combined to score nine consecutive points.
“I thought [the Wizards] got their confidence early against us, and it’s hard to shut a team off once they get going,’’ Thibodeau said. “Even the Charlotte game, our defense wasn’t very good. We’ve got to get that corrected. I don’t think we had an edge.’’
As bad as the night went for the Bulls, Noah again offered high energy. He scored only eight points on 2-for-5 shooting, but he grabbed a game-high 16 rebounds, handed out three assists and even got two steals.
“You guys have been around him,’’ Thibodeau said. “I think you know he cares a lot about winning and his teammates. I think that was a normal reaction. I think Jo has grown a lot. He has been around now. He’s one of our vets. We count on his leadership. And it’s more through his actions. His words were great, but it’s his actions that are most important.’’
As for Thibodeau, he reiterated that he was fully committed to staying the coach, despite another report over the weekend that had him again flirting with the New York Knicks.
Thibodeau strenuously shot it down Saturday. On Monday, he stressed that his mind was with the Bulls, whom he fully believes are committed to winning.
“Hey, look, Jerry [Reinsdorf’s] owned the team for a long time,’’ Thibodeau said. “Not many people own two major sports franchises. So I think he has a very good understanding of winning and losing and what goes into it. There’s a lot of tough decisions that have to be made. I don’t think he ever shies away from that, and he’s treated me great, so that’s all I can go by.’’