DEERFIELD, Ill. — The Chicago Bulls’ resolve is being tested once again.
They trail the Washington Wizards 1-0 in their first-round playoff series after blowing a 13-point lead in the opener and will try to pull even on Tuesday.
“You look at how they played down the stretch, you know how good they are,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said.
Despite losing Derrick Rose to another season-ending knee injury and trading Luol Deng, no team in the Eastern Conference won more games after New Year’s Eve than Chicago. But Thibodeau wasn’t talking about the Bulls. He was referring to the Wizards, who hadn’t been to the playoffs since 2008.
The fifth-seeded Wizards rallied from 13 down to beat Chicago 102-93, and they might have opened a few eyes in the process.
“I think we can surprise a lot of teams, if you play the right way,” Nene said.
Here are five things to look for heading into Game 2 of this best-of-7 series.
STOPPING NENE: Put simply, the Bulls didn’t do that. The Wizards’ big man dominated inside with 24 points and eight rebounds, and he seemed just fine after missing 21 games late in the season because of a sprained left knee.
“He’s as strong as they come down there on the block,” Chicago’s Mike Dunleavy Jr. said. “And he’s long, too. Presents a lot of problems.”
SWITCH IT UP? The Bulls struggled down the stretch in Game 1, getting outscored 30-18 in the fourth quarter. So are rotation changes coming? Thibodeau wouldn’t say.
“We’ll see,” he said.
One option if he’s looking to jolt the offense could be Dunleavy, who played the first 3:21 in the fourth before being lifted for Kirk Hinrich. Another possibility would be going with Carlos Boozer, although he rarely plays in the final period.
IN NEED OF ASSISTS: The Bulls managed just 13 assists in Sunday’s game, just two off their season-low, and don’t think Thibodeau didn’t notice that. Sure, Chicago shot a low percentage (42 percent overall, 5 of 20 3-pointers). The game was called tight, too, with 26 free throws for the Bulls and 35 for the Wizards. “You’re not going to get assists on things like that, but 13 is a very low number,” Thibodeau said.
AGAINST THE WALL: A combined 7-of-25 shooting effort doesn’t exactly look good for John Wall and Bradley Beal. Yet, the Wizards still won even though their two best players were off target.
Did the Bulls put too much emphasis on stopping Washington’s guard and not enough on containing Nene and Marcin Gortat (15 points, 13 rebounds) down low?
“I like to think we just did a good job on those perimeter guys and didn’t do a good enough job on the other two and hopefully we can flip that,” Dunleavy said.
MILLER’S MOMENT: Andre Miller came up big against D.J. Augustin in the fourth quarter in Game 1, scoring eight of his 10 points to help Washington grab the lead.
If the Wizards win this series, the veteran guard will do something he’s never done — advance in the postseason.
“It’s about the situation you get put in,” said Miller, in his 15th season. “Some players get the opportunity to play with those marquee superstars that will get them out of that first round. I have played with Carmelo (Anthony), Nene, Marcus Camby but we ran up against some mega-stars, Kevin Garnett and Dwight Howard. I just enjoy my time competing.”
Augustin had a difficult night all around. He scored 16 points but hit just 3 of 15 shots, and he couldn’t handle Miller late in the game.
“To put it on one guy, that’s not how we do it here,” Thibodeau said. “I could go from start to finish. There are things we didn’t do correctly, we’re capable of doing much better and we’re going to have to.”
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