Resilient Bulls in familiar territory

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CHICAGO -- It was Nene, the Brazilian warrior philosopher of the low post, who said Sunday, "Who can control our present is ourselves. Who can control our future is only God."

That's startlingly similar to the Chicago Bulls' prevailing ideology, except replace God with Tom Thibodeau.

And Thibs knows how Thibs will respond in the film room Monday. Probably not with a lot of prayerful words.

To a man, the Bulls knew they let the present slip through their fingers in a playoff-opener dud Sunday, losing a second-half lead and falling 102-93 to the Washington Wizards.

Chicago led by 13 early in the third quarter and seemed poised to grow the lead before riding out an inevitable Washington comeback, but the Wizards' big men and their old man, Andre Miller, finished off the Bulls in a sluggish finish for the 4-seed.

Bulls fans came into this series with dreams of watching a once-dead team making an Eastern Conference finals run. But they were met with the reality: This is an offensively challenged team facing a team that can answer it in the post. This is a team that can't slack on defense.

This isn't a team that can win when Joakim Noah isn't, in his words, "hyped," and D.J. Augustin can't buy a jump shot.

The past 3½ months of the Bulls' regular season have been a revelation, but the playoffs, as you might have heard, don't follow the same script.

After the disappointment of another Derrick Rose injury subsided, Chicago's love affair with Noah bloomed, but his impact is the result of 30-plus minutes of dervish activity. When he's off, the Bulls are off.

And when he gets pushed around in the post, it's trouble.

The bad news was that the bruising veteran frontcourt duo Nene (24 points, 8 rebounds) and Marcin Gortat (15 points, 13 rebounds) had their way with Noah (10 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists) and the Bulls, overshadowing a slow playoff start for guards John Wall and Bradley Beal.

But the good news is the Bulls haven't lost consecutive games since Feb. 1 and 3. When they do lose, it's because they play like matzo -- flat and flavorless.

But this is a mature team that rises to challenges, such as, say, losing Rose. It typically bounces back with an inspired effort.

That's how you go two months without dropping two in a row with a seven-man rotation.

It certainly helps when your coach is a preparation maniac.

"We know what we did wrong," a dejected Taj Gibson said. "We just let up on the gas. We can't let up on the gas when we worked so hard to get a lead on a good team. That's a good team over there. It hurts because we worked so hard to put them away. But this is the playoffs. It's just one game. We've got to get it back."

Asked by a TV reporter what the Bulls need to do in Game 2, Noah said, "We need to win."

In a follow-up question, he said, "We'll figure something out."

That's code for "Thibs is going to yell at us while we watch film, and we'll transfer that rage to the court."

Yes, it's going to be a long series. Most in Chicago, and around the league, predicted the Bulls to win in six games. That's still a fair guess.

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