By Mike McGraw
There have been plenty of times during the past few years when the Bulls didn't play their best but survived a sluggish performance and pulled out a victory in the fourth quarter.
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Usually, the common denominator was a strong finish from Derrick Rose.
Remember early last season when the Bulls rallied from 19 down to defeat Atlanta 76-74 at the United Center? Luol Deng scored the game-winner, but Rose had 17 points in the fourth quarter.
Two years ago, on Nov. 8, the Bulls trailed Denver by 6 points with about six minutes left before Rose scored 8 points down the stretch and sparked a 94-92 comeback win.
The win-despite-a-poor-performance formula was in play Saturday against New Orleans. The Bulls never trailed by more than 8 points in the fourth quarter. But they never got closer than 4 and lost the game 89-82.
Would Rose have made a difference? There's a good chance, but the Bulls will have to find other ways to escape from dangerous predicaments while he's recovering from knee surgery.
"When Derrick gets back, we're going to be a lot better," Deng said Monday at the Berto Center. "We've got to find our own way for winning those games. There's a lot of ways. We just didn't get it done the last game.
"You could say it's a learning process. It's a getting-to-know-you process. Rip (Hamilton) was on the bench (in the fourth quarter), Kirk (Hinrich) was on the bench, (Carlos) Boozer was on the bench.
"Different nights it's going to be different guys on the floor. I think the more games we play, we'll get familiar with each other."
Last weekend the Bulls blew the doors off Cleveland on Friday, winning by 29. A night later, playing at home against a team they were supposed to beat, they lacked the same sense of urgency.
Another dangerous team may be lurking Tuesday. The Bulls host Orlando, which started the season with basement-level expectations after trading all-star center Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers.
But the Magic is off to a 2-0 start and averaged 108 points in the 2 home victories, over Denver and Phoenix.
"They've done a good job," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "They're a little bit under the radar, but as you study them, they shouldn't be under the radar. They scored the ball very easily in preseason.
"You can't let your guard down and have to be ready from the start."
The Bulls fell behind 10-2 and 16-6 against New Orleans, then recovered to take a brief 7-point lead late in the first half.
As good as the Bulls can look with their current lineup, there seems to be a small margin for error without Rose to erase poor performances.
"Each game tells you something," Thibodeau said. "I think it's important to understand why you either win or lose. When you lose, you obviously want to make those corrections to improve.
"We were trying to correct it (during the New Orleans game), but we were trying to correct it individually, and we can't do that. We have to stay within the team concept, and when we do that we're a very good team.
"We have to get back to having the right approach."