Turns out, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was ahead of his time as he often stated, "Everyone is capable," when discussing upcoming opponents.
The only ones not capable, apparently, were those in charge of predicting the Eastern Conference standings.
The Philadelphia 76ers were a near-unanimous pick to finish last in winning percentage and first in lottery chances. But the Sixers started the season by upsetting Miami and coming from behind to beat Washington.
So the Bulls weren't caught by surprise, but they were caught from behind on Saturday in Philadelphia. The Bulls were dominated in the second half and out-executed down the stretch in a 107-104 loss to the 3-0 Sixers.
Derrick Rose continued to play with tape on the back of his sore neck. He finished with 13 points, 6 assists and 8 turnovers, while hitting 4 of 14 shots. Carlos Boozer led the Bulls with 22 points and 10 rebounds, while Luol Deng added 20 points.
"I would blame tonight on me," Rose said. "Turnovers, missed shots, miscommunication -- I just couldn't get in my groove."
This game did continue a trend of the early season. The Bulls' offense can look good when the starters are on the court and the ball is moving. But when the opponent turns up the defensive intensity, the Bulls can quickly turn into an error-prone, mismatched group.
"It's hard to execute when you don't practice," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "We need time in the gym. (Rose) will work his way through it. He'll be fine."
The Bulls couldn't do much of anything right at the end of this one. Even on defense they stumbled badly.
Twice, they lost battles for defensive rebounds. Twice, Evan Turner beat Jimmy Butler on backdoor cuts. Then with the Bulls trailing by 1 in the final minute, Joakim Noah jumped at a shot fake by Sixers center Spencer Hawes. As Noah sailed past, Hawes simply took a dribble and drained a 20-foot jumper with 5.9 seconds left.
On the offensive end, Rose drained a 3-pointer that put the Bulls ahead 104-102 with 2:12 remaining. But then he sailed a cross-court pass out of bounds and lost the ball while pulling up for a jumper.
With their final attempts at salvaging the game, Luol Deng missed a pair of 3-pointers. The second had a chance to tie the score with about three seconds left.
"At the end, they got to almost every loose ball and hit almost every shot they needed to win the game," Rose said.
The Sixers' outlook was supposed to be dismal this season after the Andrew Bynum experiment ended in failure, they traded all-star guard Jrue Holiday to New Orleans and acquired rookie center Nerlens Noel, who is not even expected to play this season.
But under new coach Brett Brown, Philadelphia has committed to playing at a fast tempo and found a good pair to execute that plan in Turner and rookie Michael Carter-Williams.
Running nonstop seemed to work in the Bulls' favor, since the Sixers were playing the second leg of back-to-back games.
The Bulls poured in 64 points in the first half, led 63-43 late in the second quarter and 72-54 with 8:30 left in the third. Philadelphia then found its energy and outscored the Bulls 28-11 from that point and cut the lead to 1 at the end of the third quarter. The visitors stretched the advantage back to 9 points early in the fourth, but the Sixers took the lead at 100-99 with 3:30 left when Carter-Williams (26 points) finished a lay-in after the Bulls couldn't corral a defensive rebound.
"In this league, no lead is safe," Thibodeau added. "I know you get tired of hearing that. But in one minute, a team can make up 10 points very quickly.