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updated: 4/20/2014 11:19 PM

Big opportunity for Bulls to mess up

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  • Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau reacts to a call during the second half in Game 1 of an opening-round playoff series against the Washington Wizards on Sunday night at the United Center. The Wizards won 102-93.

      Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau reacts to a call during the second half in Game 1 of an opening-round playoff series against the Washington Wizards on Sunday night at the United Center. The Wizards won 102-93.
    Associated Press

 
 

The Bulls are going to mess up a serendipitous opportunity if they aren't careful.

Brooklyn had the NBA East's best record since Jan. 1, and the Bulls avoided the Nets in the first round of the playoffs.

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The first big postseason test was supposed to be Indiana in the second round and the top-seeded Pacers might not even get that far if their Game 1 loss to Atlanta is any indication.

Yes, this was starting to set up perfectly for the Bulla until the Wizards beat them 102-93 on Sunday night in their series opener.

Heck, winter sports are getting chillier around here just when spring finally arrives. Seriously, who do the Bulls think they are anyway, the Blackhawks?

The difference is that the Hawks are down 2-0 in a best-of-seven series to the Blues, one of the NHL's quality teams.

The Bulls lost homecourt advantage to Washington, and when was the last time the Wiz scared anyone in the NBA?

Still, Washington head coach Randy Wittman said, "No … no," before tipoff when asked whether he thinks the Wizards are underdogs to the Bulls.

You hear that and think, "Liar, liar." A few hours later you think, "Prophet, prophet," after the Wizards looked like the better team with more energy and more urgency.

Look, neither of these teams would win a game from the Jordan Bulls. They might not win one from the current Heat or from the best of the West.

But the Bulls and Wizards match up pretty well, and the series should come down to which team deals better with circumstances.

That's usually the Bulls. In this game, however, the Wizards appeared to be, especially while rallying from a 13-point, third-quarter deficit.

Washington even was better at maintaining its equilibrium when officiating calls went against them.

"You have to stay in the moment," Wittman said.

The Wizards did just that, and the Bulls let them.

Frightening for Bulls fans now must be that a common concern about their team will prove true. You know, that head coach Tom Thibodeau's teams win during the regular season by playing harder than opponents but opponents play just as hard as them in the postseason.

So, once the ball went up in the playoffs, where were all those heroes from the past six months?

Joakim Noah put together one of the most inconsequential double-doubles in history with 10 points and 10 rebounds in 40 minutes.

D.J. Augustin missed 12 of 15 shots and scored 16 points only because he went 10-for-10 from the foul line.

Overall, seven Bulls scored in double figures, but Washington had the game's two top scorers.

Not a single Bull came up big in the fourth quarter to blunt the Wizards' surge, and isn't that another of the complaints about this team?

The Bulls forever have needed a secondary scorer who can create his own shot down the stretch. Without perpetually injured Derrick Rose, they needed a primary scorer against the Wiz.

Balanced scoring is OK if it's balanced a little higher than the 16-point level at the top.

It also OK if the Bulls' play their customary stingy defense and hold the opposition to fewer than 90 points.

On this night, however, the Wizards were able to score when they had to, shooting 49 percent from the field.

"Our defense wasn't very good," Thibodeau said. "We're capable of playing a lot better."

The Bulls better be. Washington entered the playoffs oozing confidence and looked younger, quicker and at times more engaged than the Bulls.

"We're going to have to bounce back with more intensity," Thibodeau said.

The unspoken "or else" is that the Bulls will blow what is shaping up as a terrific opportunity.

mimrem@dailyherald.com

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