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updated: 3/10/2014 8:55 PM

Will Bulls' intensity have playoff payoff?

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  • Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau believes that "every game is winnable. If we do the right things, we're going to have a chance to win."

    Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau believes that "every game is winnable. If we do the right things, we're going to have a chance to win."
    Associated Press


No doubt Bulls fans enjoyed watching Sunday's overtime victory over the Miami Heat.

But it does feel like we've seen the same game before, several times.

Whether it's Derrick Rose, John Lucas III, Nate Robinson or D.J. Augustin playing hero, the Bulls have recorded plenty of gutty, hard-fought home wins over Miami and the Power Trio.

The Bulls have owned the regular season against the Heat, going 7-1 at the United Center and 9-6 overall since 2010-11.

Those intense, gutty victories have evaporated in the playoffs, though, with the Bulls going 2-8 against Miami in the games that matter most.

So after another intense victory over the Heat, the obvious question is whether this is a valid blueprint for postseason success. Coach Tom Thibodeau didn't want to give in to the idea Monday at the Berto Center.

"Every game is winnable," Thibodeau said. "If we do the right things, we're going to have a chance to win. We're down a couple guys, but if we play hard enough and we play smart enough and we play together enough, we'll have a chance. That's what we have to do.

"For us, it's our fight. There's a lot of teams that have talent. I think the teams that have talent and heart, those are the teams that are special. We've got to keep grinding, fighting -- whatever we have to do. Just find a way to win."

There's no secret or fluke to how things work in the NBA. A team can be successful by playing consistently harder and smarter than its opponents. But in the playoffs, the superstars win out.

One reason is because it's the playoffs. Every team brings a sense of urgency, so the Bulls lose that effort advantage from the regular season.

It's also the simple fact that the game comes easier for teams with star players. Give it to your best player and let him go to work. When a star can force a double-team, make a quick pass and bury a 3-pointer.

Thibodeau knows this as well as anyone. It's no coincidence that the lone NBA title of his coaching career came with the help of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen on the Celtics.

The Bulls' current method of offensive success is cut hard, pick hard, move the ball, then attack the glass and try to rebound the misses.

When the Heat is at full strength, LeBron James spends half the same watching Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh score.

Miami's supporting cast can count on 10 open looks from the 3-point arch per game. If offense comes easy, energy can be stored for the defensive end.

Maybe one consolation for the Bulls is they don't have to beat Miami or Indiana four straight times. They can win four and lose three to advance in the playoffs.

They'll be able to test their lasting intensity this week with two more of the NBA's best teams coming to town, starting with San Antonio (46-16) on Tuesday. Houston (44-19) arrives Thursday.

"Whenever you exhale in this league, you get in trouble," Thibodeau said. "You're going to be challenged every day."

Mr. Intensity himself, Joakim Noah, gave his thoughts on this topic Monday. Is it possible for the Bulls to ride a wave of effort and emotion to the NBA Finals?

"That's the plan," he said. "I think that has to be your mentality. Is it going to happen? Probably not. But you try to play at a high level, play with high intensity every time. Try your best and see what happens."

• Follow Mike's Bulls reports on Twitter @McGrawDHBulls.

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