WASHINGTON -- Logic suggested the Bulls would have learned their lesson after falling behind 29-12 in Game 2 against Washington.
A major comeback requires extra energy, and the short-handed Bulls don't have any to spare these days.
So how can anyone possibly explain how the Bulls could open Sunday's crucial Game 4 by falling behind 14-0? This time they never came all the way back. In Game 2, they rallied to open a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter before losing in overtime.
"They've had that sense of urgency in the first quarter every time," Joakim Noah said of the Wizards. "It's on us to change it. We're getting punched in the mouth every time in the first quarter. We've got to find a way to change that."
From the opening tip Sunday, Washington seemed to know exactly what it wanted to do, while the Bulls struggled to find decent shots. Their first possession ended with Kirk Hinrich racing to beat the shot clock with a 3-pointer, the second was a bad pass by Noah that turned into a fastbreak layup in the other way.
Hinrich finally got into the lane but missed a runner, and Trevor Ariza's 3-pointer put Washington up 7-0. The second 7 points were similar.
"It's kind of been the theme of the series," Hinrich said. "We've struggled to get off to good starts. We're conscious of it.
"They're trying to deny wings, pressure and deny elbow catches. You have to give them credit. They're doing a good job. We knew we would have to take care of the ball and be very sharp offensively. And we just haven't done that very well at times."
Washington coach Randy Wittman had an explanation for why his team was ready for Sunday's tipoff.
"We were locked in," he said. "I could tell our focus was back yesterday, even with the news of Nene being suspended. I saw our guys bond together like, 'That's OK.' "
The Bulls have fallen behind at the start of every game in this series, just not always this badly. They trailed 15-8 in Game 3 and 19-13 in Game 1 but recovered quickly both times.
Finding a way to get out of this rut will be imperative to keeping the season alive Tuesday night at the United Center.
"I really can't speculate," Taj Gibson said. "We just follow (coach Tom Thibodeau's) lead. He watches film night and day. He's in the office watching film all night. We trust what he says. We just have to come out with the right energy."