Their dismal start has forced the Bulls to talk about focus more than a camera salesman.
They have discussed the need for more floor burns enough to make their vocal cords ache.
All the hustle qualities that have created the Bulls' reputation around the league needed to be on full display Thursday night at the United Center even if the opponent was the Deerfield junior varsity.
That the opponent was the Pistons, whose rivalry with the Bulls demands such play, made the task even more imperative.
With a sellout crowd and a national cable TV audience watching, the Bulls did resemble the gritty squads of recent vintage. Their effort was rewarded with a 97-93 victory, the Bulls' first in five tries.
That sound reverberating beyond the crowd's chants of "Detroit [stinks]" was a collective exhalation from a team tired of losing.
"This was a must-win game for us," guard Kirk Hinrich said.
Missed free throws by the Bulls created a tense finish.
The Bulls led 94-93 when Ben Gordon drew a borderline foul on Richard Hamilton while attempting an awkward shot with 27.4 seconds remaining. Perfect on four foul shots to that point, Gordon made the first but missed the second to set up the Pistons with 26.3 seconds left.
Rasheed Wallace, who took advantage of one-on-one coverage as the Bulls stayed with perimeter shooters to score 36 points, then worked on Tyrus Thomas but missed a short turnaround. Joe Smith corralled the rebound and was fouled with 13.3 seconds left.
But Smith, too, split his two free throws, giving the Pistons one more chance.
Chauncey Billups drew the defense before feeding Hamilton for a good look on a three-pointer. It rimmed out, Thomas grabbed the rebound and he made one of two free throws with 2.9 seconds left to seal it.
Name a Bull and he awakened to show some sign of a pulse.
Thomas pogo-sticked to 19 points and a career-high 14 rebounds, and he blocked one Hamilton layup with such force that Hamilton grabbed Thomas' ankle in frustration as he fell, drawing a technical foul.
Hinrich had 14 assists and introduced his back to a metal pole behind the Pistons' bench while leaping over it in pursuit of a loose ball.
Luol Deng started and finished strong to the tune of 17 points. Gordon overcame early foul trouble to score 16 points, although he continued to struggle with his shot.
Smith continued to exhibit his steady presence off the bench, scoring seven of his 13 points in the fourth quarter.
The Bulls were the aggressors, piling up a 42-26 advantage in points in the paint and a 14-7 edge in second-chance points. They had 28 assists on 39 field goals.
"We were after everything and into every possession, which is our trademark," coach Scott Skiles said. "Our execution was much better. We looked more relaxed and confident."
Before the game, Skiles even brought up the Eddy Curry saga, which started with an irregular heartbeat in March 2005 and ended on the eve of training camp for the 2005-06 season with Curry's trade to the Knicks.
"It took us several weeks to put that behind us," Skiles said. "We've had some things that have crept up from a distraction standpoint that have definitely had an effect. And we just need to get over it."
Now the Bulls need to get on a roll. Only the 1951 Knicks and 1978 SuperSonics advanced to the NBA Finals after starting 0-4 or worse.
"We played harder," Thomas said. "That's what we did last season. Win or lose, we played hard."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times