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updated: 5/3/2011 8:17 AM

Should the Bulls be worried? Just ask the Magic

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  • Derrick Rose of the Bulls rests on the bench during Monday's game against the Atlanta Hawks.

    Derrick Rose of the Bulls rests on the bench during Monday's game against the Atlanta Hawks.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer


There are a couple reasons why the Bulls might feel inclined to write off their Game 1 loss to Atlanta as a bad night that can be remedied.

For starters, most of the damage during the Hawks' 103-95 victory at the United Center was the result of two guys knocking down long, challenging jump shots.

Joe Johnson drained 12 of 18 attempts for 34 points, while ex-Bulls guard Jamal Crawford played his instant-offense role to the hilt, scoring 22 points off the bench.

Can they really do that three more times?

"In 1-on-1 situations, they're tough," Derrick Rose said. "They were hitting tough shots, guys on them. They're just good basketball players. Contested twos, contested threes, fadeaways."

The game's backbreaking basket might have been the 20-footer from Josh Smith with 3:43 left. Smith was tossing bricks all night, but he found the net on this one and gave his team a 93-83 advantage with 3:43 remaining.

That's pretty much the exact scenario the Bulls faced late in Game 1 against Indiana in the first round. That day, they responded with a game-ending 16-1 run. This time, Joakim Noah missed a contested dunk attempt and was given a technical for complaining about the lack of a foul. Not good.

"It's on us, really, to find a way slow some of those guys down," Noah said. "I felt like they were hitting a lot of tough shots tonight, but it's up to us to put the pressure on and we'll do that."

OK, then remember the Bulls lost a tough one to the Hawks earlier this season. On March 2 in Atlanta, they squandered a 17-point halftime lead and dropped an 83-80 decision. The Bulls regrouped after that loss and won their next eight games, including back-to-back road victories over Orlando and Miami.

So no need to worry, right? The only problem is Orlando probably felt the same way after losing Game 1 of its first-round series against the Hawks. Atlanta went on to capture all three home games and win the series 4-2.

The Bulls can't just count on Johnson and Crawford losing their accuracy in Wednesday's Game 2. They've got to do something about it.

A good place to start is the opening tip. It took the Bulls nearly five minutes to dent the scoreboard and they trailed 28-18 after the first quarter. They settled down, pulled within 1 by halftime and led 66-60 with 4:10 remaining in the third quarter.

But Johnson and Crawford kept knocking down shots and Atlanta was in complete control after opening the fourth quarter with an 8-0 run.

"I think the intensity wasn't right," said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who received the coach of the year trophy just before tipoff. "The start of the game was poor in terms of ball pressure, in terms of challenging shots, in terms of showing help. There wasn't one aspect of the defense that was good. They're too good of a shooting team to play like that. Once they got that lead and got their confidence, they're hard to slow down."

Rose stepped on Crawford's foot while playing meaningless defense in the final seconds of the game. Rose ended up tweaking his already injured left ankle, which he sprained in Game 4 of the Indiana series.

"I'm good. Getting treatment," he said in the locker room. "There's no excuses right now. Everybody has injuries, but they're fighting through it and just trying to win games."

The Bulls had five days off between the end of the Indiana series and the start of this one. Rust is a potential excuse, but Thibodeau believes the break left no room for alibis.

"When you're coming off of three days practice and prior to that, two days off, you should have high energy and intensity and we didn't have that," he said. "We didn't have an edge to start the game. You don't have an edge, you're asking for trouble."

Ask Orlando guard Jameer Nelson. He told Derrick Rose he'd catch him in the second round, so the Hawks left him tickets for Game 1. Nelson probably didn't use them, but he's a spectator either way.