Getting swept really isn't the Bulls' style.
It hasn't happened in the playoffs since 1987, when they went out 3-0 against Boston in the first round. The last time the Bulls were swept in a four-game series was 1981, also against the Celtics, that time in the second round.
Contact information ( * required )
The Bulls have played 48 straight playoff series without getting swept, so there will be some history on the line when they travel to Washington this weekend trailing this first-round series 2-0.
The team flew to Washington on Thursday and chose to have a meeting instead of practice, so there was no media access. But the Bulls' task is already pretty clear -- find a way to utilize their grinding style against an opponent with superior offensive firepower.
"We've been down before," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Wednesday. "You have to approach it the same way. Sometimes things are going your way. Sometimes they're not. You have to work your way out of things."
Among the NBA's eight playoff teams, Washington had the worst home record at 22-19, so it's not unreasonable to think the Bulls could keep this series alive by winning at least once at the Verizon Center. Game 3 is Friday at 7 p.m., while Game 4 is Sunday at noon.
While we're waiting, here are some suggestions for how the Bulls could turn the tables:
Stick to their strength:
The Bulls' formula for success during the Injured Derrick Rose Era is relatively basic. Their specialty is taking away what an opponent wants to do offensively.
The Bulls were on the right track during Game 2. After Washington scored 56 points in the first half, the defense clamped down and held the Wizards to 14 points in the third quarter. In the fourth, Washington scored 10 points in the first seven minutes. The Bulls definitely had the game going their way, but ran out of steam late, which leads to the second suggestion.
Some might blame heavy playing time for the Bulls' late fade, but a more logical culprit was the slow start. Game 2 began without the Bulls, who fell behind 29-12 in the opening 10 minutes. They had to expend extra energy to erase the 17-point deficit, then faded after building a 10-point fourth-quarter lead.
Outside of Jimmy Butler playing all 53 minutes, the workload wasn't out of the ordinary for the Bulls. Joakim Noah played nearly 46 minutes, but Washington's John Wall, Bradley Beal and Trevor Ariza all played at least 42 minutes.
Finding ways to score has been a problem for the Bulls all season, but it mostly comes down to making open shots. The Bulls actually got several good looks in the fourth quarter of Game 2. Knock a couple down -- or even one -- and nobody's talking about an inspirational coming-of-age victory by the Wizards.
Here are a couple thoughts about the offense: Washington spent most of Game 2 packing the paint and daring the Bulls to beat them from the outside. D.J. Augustin got some surprisingly open looks at the 3-point line by simply accepting a screen, because the big men stayed home. If the Bulls can find a hot hand from long range, it could open up the middle of the floor. Augustin usually shoots the ball well and maybe Mike Dunleavy can get going with that method.
If Tom Thibodeau wants to get bold, send Jimmer Fredette out there to run the pick-and-shoot offense. Fredette seems capable of delivering the sort of 10 points in 10 minutes performance Washington is getting from veteran Andre Miller.
Trust the big guy:
Many of the Bulls' best offensive moments this season have occurred when the ball is in Joakim Noah's hands. He made a couple of careless turnovers late in Game 2, but his passing, especially off the dribble, can be the team's most effective weapon.
Noah is averaging 15 points and 11 rebounds so far, but has 8 turnovers to counter 7 assists. Dropping a couple of outside shots should help him get past defenders. And one reliable move the Bulls have missed in this series is Noah driving and dishing to Taj Gibson, who's been good at knocking down midrange jumpers late in games.
The Bulls did a credible job of slowing down Nene in Game 2. He had 11 points at the end of regulation. But Noah needs to stop letting the burly Brazilian to shoot that lean-back jumper, which has been nearly automatic (and killed the Bulls in overtime). Nene can handle the ball and make a move to the basket, but anything is better than the no-effort jumper.
Another simple fix is some scoring from Butler, who hit 2-of-9 shots in those 53 minutes of action on Tuesday. He finished the regular season shooting the ball well.
Even by winning just one of the two games in Washington, the Bulls would bring the series back home for Game 5, with a chance to build some momentum and maybe put pressure on the Wizards by forcing a Game 6.
So this series is far from a lost cause. The Wizards are talented, but Thibodeau and the Bulls have found ways to slow down better teams than this one.