(MCT) — The Bulls have lost two straight games just three times in the last 15 months.
And, no, they don't need to be reminded that one of those times occurred in last season's Eastern Conference finals at the hands of the Heat.
As their latest test shifts to Philadelphia for Friday's Game 3 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinals series against the 76ers, the Bulls also know their top overall seed will mean nothing for the second straight year unless they rally.
Being down 2-1 in a playoff series, especially without Derrick Rose, is an uncomfortable spot.
"We've been through tougher things than this," Luol Deng said following a 90-minute practice. "I know how everyone feels. We've got a lot of guys who are fighters. We're going to fight our way out of this." The blueprint to do this has been espoused by coach Tom Thibodeau all season: Defend. Rebound. Limit turnovers. Play inside-out offensively. Share the ball.
Better transition defense and more scoring from starters would help as well. The 76ers scored 25 fast-break points off just eight Bulls turnovers in Game 2, which suggests poor shot selection and floor balance offensively.
"(The 76ers) leak out," Thibodeau said. "They're small. They're quick. When they have Thaddeus Young on the floor, it's like having another small out there. You can't have just one guy or two guys back. On the raise of the shot, you have to have the discipline to be back. Not on your way back, but be back." Surprisingly, Richard Hamilton has yet to play in the fourth quarter this series.
"Just our rotation," Thibodeau said. "Whenever you move somebody into something else, you're taking somebody out. So who are you taking out? Our starting unit didn't play well. And our bench didn't play well. You're looking at everything _ execution, why you win or lose. You evaluate everything."
Asked if, in light of the 76ers playing small, he could use Hamilton, Kyle Korver and Luol Deng together, with Deng at power forward, Thibodeau frowned.
"You can, but you have to remember: They're very small," he said. "A good part of that game was (Jrue) Holiday, (Lou) Williams and Evan (Turner). Basically, you're looking at three point guards." Pointing to the Bulls' 45.2 percent shooting and 92 points, Thibodeau insisted offense isn't the main issue anyway.
"If you're giving up 59 percent (shooting by the 76ers) and not getting back in transition, that's a big problem," he said. "You can always add a play or two offensively, put a counter in. But I thought our execution on catch-and-shoot offense was very good. And if you look at the film and study the stats, it says that.
"You want to be balanced offensively. The game tells you where you're going with the ball. Oftentimes those (primary scorers) are getting the ball in the paint and making plays. You just have to play inside out, post up, get dribble penetration, catch-and-shoot, try to take advantage of the blitz situations. I expect us to be ready." So does Deng.
"We trust the system," he said. "Like Coach said, not one guy is going to take the load by himself. We're going to do it as a team. We always believe to win games it's about our defense.
"They have the momentum. They're going to come out with a lot of energy. It's up to us to play hard and play our game, not worry so much about what Philly is doing. We're not going to listen to what's going on outside the team. We really believe in each other. We're disappointed in the last game. But this is another opportunity."