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posted: 4/1/2012 7:41 PM

Maybe this Bulls loss meant little, or so they can hope

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  • Bulls guard Derrick Rose, from left, guard John Lucas III and forward Brian Scalabrine watch from the bench in the third quarter of Sunday's lopsided loss at Oklahoma City.

    Bulls guard Derrick Rose, from left, guard John Lucas III and forward Brian Scalabrine watch from the bench in the third quarter of Sunday's lopsided loss at Oklahoma City.
    Associated Press


The Bulls aren't as bad as they played Sunday and Oklahoma City isn't as good.

At least the Bulls better hope that's true.

The Thunder won 92-78 after the Bulls trailed by 30 points. No big deal, really.

The Bulls better hope it isn't.

This entire NBA season is like a series of baseball spring-training exercises or NFL exhibition scrimmages.

Win and say you're ready for when everything counts, in this case the NBA playoffs. Lose and say you were working out the kinks for the playoffs.

Basketball's regular season this year, especially for the elite teams, is more about preparation than qualification. The compressed schedule, 66 games in four months, has rendered what you see to be nowhere near what you get.

When Miami is drubbed on the road, which happened again Sunday at Boston, Heat players say there's nothing to worry about: "We're bored we're tired we'll get a second wind for the second season."

That sounds a lot like a pitcher saying that the results don't matter as much as emerging from a spring-training outing healthy. Then again, maybe it's more like a linebacker emerging from the first week of practice saying that it's time to hit somebody in a different uniform.

Just about every NBA game now has to be shipped to an FBI lab in Virginia to be forensically analyzed. Which team had more healthy players? Which benefited from a more favorable schedule? Which came in with more momentum?

Let's take a closer look at a couple of recent Bulls games.

The loss at Oklahoma City came with the rumored starting backcourt of Derrick Rose and Rip Hamilton still unavailable because of injuries.

The Thunder might be better even when the Bulls are healthy. With Rose and Hamilton missing, the Bulls might as well have their behind-the-back dribbles tied behind their backs.

So this loss can be dismissed.

Now let's look at the Bulls' most impressive recent victory, last week's 98-77 walkover at Atlanta.

Coming over a decent Hawks team, it would be an encouraging indicator if this season's maniacal schedule hadn't had the Hawks playing their fifth game in six days.

Fifth game in six days! Maybe Kentucky really could beat an NBA team that was playing its fifth game in six days. Maybe Illinois could.

So this victory can be dismissed, too.

What shouldn't be overlooked is that with the exception of the game at Atlanta, the Bulls haven't looked for a while like the team they want to be.

Maybe most disturbing is that two high-scoring teams, Denver and Oklahoma City, dismantled the defense-minded Bulls during the past week.

But even that could be a function of Rose not being around to control the tempo of the game for the Bulls. Sometimes the best defense really is a good offense, and the Bulls don't have enough offense without Rose and Hamilton.

Add up all these results and all these developments and all these schedule quirks and all these health factors well, what you have is a mysterious NBA limping toward the playoffs later this month and depending on who shows up healthy on whose roster.

So the Thunder looked like the league's best team Sunday and the Bulls looked like the worst.

Make what you want of it, but you can't take too much from it.

At least the Bulls better hope that's the case.

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