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updated: 4/20/2017 6:39 PM

Chicago Bulls trying to avoid letdown as series shifts to United Center

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  • Boston Celtics forward Amir Johnson (90) fouls Chicago Bulls center Robin Lopez (8) during the first quarter of a first-round NBA playoff basketball game in Boston, Tuesday, April 18, 2017.

    Boston Celtics forward Amir Johnson (90) fouls Chicago Bulls center Robin Lopez (8) during the first quarter of a first-round NBA playoff basketball game in Boston, Tuesday, April 18, 2017.

 
 

By winning their last two games of the regular season, then the first two of their playoff series in Boston, the Chicago Bulls are on the verge of walking into new territory.

They haven't won five games in a row all season. Every time it seemed like they were figuring things out and about to string together some wins, they always slipped up.

A fifth consecutive victory this time would be huge, since it would give the Bulls a 3-0 series lead against the top-seeded Celtics. Game 3 is set for Friday at the United Center, with an early tipoff time of 6 p.m.

"I've been in the league 14 years, I've never been in this situation; been the eighth seed or been the lower seed and won the first two games on the road," Dwyane Wade said Thursday at the Advocate Center. "So this is uncharted waters for all of us.

"But what we need to do is what we started to do and that's focus on each possession, focus on each play. Trying to win those will eventually win the ballgame."

The Bulls won four straight games three times during the regular season. The first one ended with a road loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Nov. 19 and there was no shame in that one. The Bulls were competitive against a Clippers team that was off to a fast start.

The second four-game winning streak ended with a home loss to Denver. The third one lapsed with the loss in New York late in the season.

The Bulls have clearly had trouble sustaining success, and that's understandable with so many young players in the rotation. But this is definitely their best stretch of the season, going 9-2 since the March 26 victory in Milwaukee.

"It will be the hardest game probably that we've played to date. We've got to be prepared for it," Wade said. "They're going to play a physical game. As you get on in the series, you start disliking guys a little bit more, the game gets a little more physical."

The Bulls are glad to be heading home for Games 3 and 4, but that can be a tricky dynamic.

They had a frustrating tendency to play poorly against bad teams, so they'll have to guard against feeling satisfied with the 2-0 lead. Then if they lose Game 3, there's more pressure on the Bulls to come back with a win Sunday, and that can lead to a team playing tight, which Boston seemed to display late in Game 2.

"These young guys have been playing really well, but it gets harder now because you come home," Wade said. "Everything is different now. There's more expectations when you're at home.

"When you're on the road, you get away from everything, you're just out there playing. You're trying to get one. At home, you're supposed to win. So it can be a little bit harder on young guys if you put too much pressure on yourself."

There's a long list of things the Bulls did well to win the two games in Boston:

• They got helpful contributions from the bench, specifically Bobby Portis in Game 1 and Paul Zipser in Game 2.

• They controlled the rebounds, thanks in large part to center Robin Lopez.

• They played with a good pace, shared the ball and executed their defensive game plan of blitzing screens, then quickly rotating back into position.

"It's about everybody on your roster playing a part," coach Fred Hoiberg said. "I give our scout team great credit for getting our guys ready, they had them really frustrated the two days leading into Game 1, and that's what it's all about this at time of year."

It's probably reasonable to label the Celtics a regular-season overachiever. Their 53-29 record is the worst for a No. 1 seed since Detroit in 2007. But it's also safe to say they won't go down without a fight.

"Our message today, our message tomorrow to the guys is going to be about that: Those games (in Boston) were great, but those games don't matter," Wade said. "It doesn't matter. It's about each game.

"You don't celebrate, you don't get too happy, until you've won that fourth game and the clock hits all zeros because it's hard to win a series. It's hard to win games. We've seen that."

• Get the latest Bulls news via Twitter by following @McGrawDHBulls.

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