CHICAGO -- When the Chicago Bulls reeled off seven straight victories last month, it appeared a young, rebuilding team was prepared to turn a much-needed corner.
Some of the shortcomings the Bulls experienced in starting the season 3-20 dissipated and pieces began to fall into place. But as Chicago prepares to host the struggling Houston Rockets Monday at the United Center, the necessity of bouncing back from a 39-point loss to the Indiana Pacers on Saturday provides a dose of reality that the Bulls -- despite their recent improvement -- still have much work to do.
"We were awful," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said matter-of-factly to reporters Saturday, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Granted, the Bulls were finishing off a back-to-back and a stretch of eight games in 12 days. But after all the progress Chicago (14-26) had appeared to make last month, Saturday's lackluster showing against the Pacers became the Bulls' fourth loss in their past five games.
The Bulls' biggest struggle of late has come defensively. According to basketball-reference.com, Chicago has allowed at least 124 points in four straight games -- a first in franchise history.
Despite their recent issues, however, forward Nikola Mirotic -- whose return sparked Chicago's turnaround in December -- believes the Bulls can return again to playing better basketball.
"We need to have more urgency," Mirotic told reporters after Saturday's loss, according to the Tribune. "We didn't have a lot of energy. Our communication was poor. But I think we're going to be fine."
Monday's test against the Rockets may come at a good time.
Houston (27-11) is 3-7 in its last 10 games and has lost two straight games following a 108-101 loss to the Detroit Pistons on Saturday.
Like the Bulls, the Rockets have been lacking on the defensive end of the floor during a stretch when Houston has seen its issues in controlling opponents offensively lead to other problems.
"It's obvious to us more than anything, we have to get better on the defensive end," guard Chris Paul said Saturday, according to the Houston Chronicle. "We're scoring enough points. We have to get more confidence (that) we can stop teams.
"Some of it is effort. We have to communicate more and better. We have to be better defensively because right now, teams, everybody feels like they're going to have their career high against us or something like that and I don't like that."
Against the Pistons, the Rockets watched as Detroit connected on 50.7 percent of their field goal attempts. Like Paul, forward P.J. Tucker said that communication -- or more specifically, a lack of it -- has been an obstacle.
Now, the Rockets will attempt to right their ship Monday against the Bulls, who had scored at least 120 points in two of their past three games before tallying only 86 on Saturday against Indiana. With both teams struggling, Tucker hopes defensive improvement will pay off in other ways. But correcting the communication issues, Tucker said, is a top priority.
"It kills our defense," Tucker said Saturday, according to the Chronicle. "We give up a lot of easy shots, easy plays. (We don't) get stops. When our defense doesn't roll, our offense suffers. Once we figure that out, essentially (to) help our offense, I think we will get that going. It's tough."
Struggling Bulls, Rockets meet while trying to fix problems