Bulls look to even up series against 76ers


May 9

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It seems fashionable lately to not care much about the Bulls. Yes, they are trailing the Philadelphia 76ers just 3-2 in the opening playoff series with Game 6 in Philadelphia Thursday (6:00 p.m. CT | CSN & NBA TV | ESPN 1000 AM).

But the notion is without Derrick Rose, gone for the playoffs with a torn ACL and Joakim Noah, out perhaps several more games with a severe sprained ankle, the Bulls cannot win a championship.

Maybe the 76ers get tight and already a poor shooting team — 21.5 percent on threes in this series — loses at home Thursday and then faces Game 7 in Chicago Saturday that they’d probably lose? You know the venal Philadelphia media and community would love to pounce on them if they were to lose to the Bulls without Rose and Noah.

No city celebrates the misfortune of others like Philadelphia. Perhaps they don’t know it was settled by Quakers and Philadelphia translates roughly to brotherly love. Perhaps if they were Cain and Abel?

Anyway, so it goes that if the Bulls somehow become the ninth team to recover from a 3-1 playoff deficit and even beat Boston or Atlanta, what chance is there against Miami? Sort of a why bother view, which strikes me as ridiculous.

This really is great stuff for the Bulls now as long as it lasts. Of course, we all hate that Rose is out, mostly for him, but also for everyone’s opportunity to see this great showman and talent of the game.

But sports, despite what many seem to say, isn’t only about championships. Sure, everyone’s goal presumably is the ultimate success, at least for each season. But it’s truly not an all or nothing business.

In some places, and Chicago has become one of them because of the success of the Bulls in the 1990’s, there seems to be this feeling that if you are not playing for a title, it is a lost season, or one not worth watching. That you become spoiled with the success, as the notion seems to go now without Rose.

Taj GibsonThat should be far from actuality. Yes, the Bulls spent the season as the league leaders and among the favorites for the title. Appropriately not any longer without Rose. No one loses the league MVP and goes on to win a title.

But what’s wrong with watching them try? I was on WGN with David Kaplan Wednesday night and joked if it were only about titles, why would the Cubs start any season? Hey, I was kidding!

But that’s the point. There’s much more to see in sport than the final game and party. Maybe the Bulls can pull some upsets as the sudden underdog. A lot of sports is about watching what players do in these moments, who excels and who disappears, who rises to the moment and who lets it overcome them. It also helps you decide whom you want to keep going forward.

And what if the Pacers pull an upset? Get up 10 late like they did on the Bulls in Game 1 last year, and this time know they can win instead of wondering whether they can. I’m not suggesting this Bulls team is championship material. But as long as you are playing, you have a chance to play more. And there’s great fun and entertainment in that.

For the Bulls, it suddenly doesn’t look all that daunting this week. Yes, Rose is gone and Noah likely won’t play Thursday. But Taj Gibson probably will, as he said after Tuesday’s win his ankle had hardly swollen up that much. Of course, the question is the level of his effectiveness, which won’t be known until he’s in the game making those quick moves and stops.

He is important to the Bulls against a team like the 76ers because he is one of the Bulls’ better athletes to match the more athletic, if less skilled, 76ers players.

It’s tough to expect the 76ers to produce another all-time stinker like they did in the United Center in Game 5 with 69 points and 32.1 percent shooting. The starters shot 29 percent.

The 76ers want to stay out of another defensive taffy pull with the Bulls, who have to play that way now to compete. It’s not aesthetically appealing other than the potential final result.

The 76ers need to stay out of the halfcourt, which is difficult in the playoffs. So maybe they pressure the Bulls’ guards, C.J. Watson and John Lucas III, even more to create turnovers. Similarly, they did that with Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng when they put the ball down. Yet the duo had their best game with a combined 43 points and 21 rebounds, they contributed seven of the Bulls’ 15 turnovers.

The Bulls need to swing the ball more quickly on offense, which they haven’t done as well in this series, though Rose and Noah are their best passers. The Bulls had success Tuesday with bigger Ronnie Brewer defending the 76ers’ guards, and I might pair him more with Richard Hamilton, who has played point guard when he was in Detroit. The Bulls need more from Hamilton, and need him on the court more than the 18 minutes he got in Game 5.

Omer AsikBut the defense is where the Bulls will succeed, and though Omer Asik had just four points, I thought his defense was one of the main reasons the Bulls won.

He’s also why extended stats don’t tell the whole story. Other than the obvious shot blocking with three, he changed numerous shots in the lane as the 76ers would beat the perimeter, as usual, and then be faced with Asik’s long arms and Gibson’s quickness. They are a terrific defensive pair. Asik came out on perimeter jump shots as well and is so quick sliding across the lane to help. It doesn’t register as stats, but as he’s played more the 76ers shooting percentage has declined.

I always see him directing players on offense as he seems to know the offense well even if he doesn’t participate much as he still has trouble catching the ball and seems to rush his shots as a result. And in a second language.

“They are great defensive players,” says Kyle Korver, who quietly ranks among the Bulls wounded with knee and foot problems he’s declined to discuss. “They play so well together. Taj is such a unique post defender. He can switch onto the point guard and switch onto LeBron. He’s such a rare piece to have on a team. Omer is enormous. He’s always in the right spot, he is really smart and knows how to use his length.”

A Bulls team never has recovered from this sort of playoff deficit before. Can they? And what of Boozer and Deng? For real? Who’s good enough to be back? There are plenty of questions and storyline to go.

“The pressure will go on them as the series goes on for sure,” added Korver.

Right, how can you lose to that team without Rose and Noah? It should be very entertaining to see.

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