Task is tough, but DeRozan's message to Bulls teammates is enjoy the playoffs
DeMar DeRozan has played in 58 playoff games over his career, getting as far as the Eastern Conference finals with Toronto.
Many of his Bulls teammates have played in zero. So what advice will he give heading into Sunday's Game 1 against the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks?
"Enjoy it. You can't treat it like you're going to jail or something," DeRozan said Tuesday at the Advocate Center. "Only a certain amount of teams have that opportunity. Now, let's make the best out of it and go out there and compete."
The Bulls have quite an extreme mix of playoff experience. DeRozan has been through it plenty of times. Alex Caruso and Tristan Thompson have won championships, Derrick Jones Jr. played in the Finals for Miami in 2020.
On the other side, Zach LaVine, Patrick Williams, Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu will be making their playoff debuts. Javonte Green logged six minutes in one playoff game for Boston, in the bubble with no fans.
Center Nikola Vucevic is sort of in-between. He helped lead Orlando to the playoffs twice, then lost a five-game series in the first round to Toronto and Milwaukee as a heavy underdog.
Vucevic also watched from the bench as a rookie when Philadelphia knocked off the Bulls in 2012 after Derrick Rose suffered the untimely ACL tear in Game 1.
"It's the best part of being in the NBA," Vucevic said. "That's what you play for, you want to be in the playoffs, you want to be on the biggest stage. Once we finally got there with Orlando, it was my biggest achievement of my career."
The Bulls, with their limited experience, will have their hands full against Milwaukee. If it's any consolation, Giannis Antetokounmpo has never beaten the Bulls in the playoffs, losing in the 2015 first round in his second pro season and playoff debut.
The most memorable play of that series was probably when Antetokounmpo got annoyed by something Mike Dunleavy Jr. did, chased him down and knocked him into the front row, earning a Game 6 ejection.
But the Bulls went 0-4 this season against the Bucks. The first two games were close, the second two were not.
"Meet their intensity out of the gate." DeRozan said. "You can't make mistakes on a team like that. I think the times we got beat pretty bad, we just made mistake after mistake and we couldn't slow them down."
He's been there before, but this is DeRozan's first playoff appearance in three years, having failed to qualify the last two seasons in San Antonio. No one is still on the Bulls' roster from their last playoff trip in 2017, when they were the No. 8 seed and took a 2-0 lead on No. 1 Boston.
"It's much different than the regular season," DeRozan said. "For me, you've got to catch on, on the go. A lot of times earlier when I was in the playoffs, you have a great game here, but the next game is completely different. Understanding how to get through the struggle and not letting one possession or one quarter or one game dictate a whole series.
"We had such an up and down season. We learned a lot about ourselves the last couple of weeks, but now it's 0-0. We can refocus, lock-in and kind of look at everything that pushed us."
Coach Billy Donovan began the six days of preparation with a long practice. He said everyone participated except Matt Thomas, who has been out with a leg injury, and compared it to a training camp session, featuring plenty of the basics.
"I thought today we had a really good practice, one of the best all season," Vucevic said. "We really competed and went at each other. Talked, did a lot of stuff we struggled with the last few weeks. You want to use these couple of days to clear your mind."