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Bulls pick up pieces after getting ousted in first round

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Associated Press
5/11/2012 5:15:24 PM
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DEERFIELD, Ill. -- Joakim Noah figured the Chicago Bulls would be preparing for at least one more game. Instead, they're picking up the pieces.

A first-round knockout by Philadelphia left the Bulls staring at a long, painful off-season that they certainly weren't anticipating when the playoffs began.

They were eyeing another long run. Instead, they're out early after a 79-78 loss in Game 6 and Noah was having a hard time absorbing that.

"The unfortunate part of this year is we didn't measure up against the teams we wanted to measure up against," Noah said Friday. "I personally believe this group can compete against anybody and beat anybody."

They didn't really get a chance to show it in the end, though.

They captured the No. 1 overall seed for the second straight year despite a long list of injuries, only to watch as Derrick Rose blew out his left knee in the playoff opener. That set a terrible tone for Chicago, and the Bulls became the second No. 1 to lose to the eighth seed in as many years after San Antonio fell to Memphis a year ago.

"We'll get healthy," forward Carlos Boozer said. "We'll be back. And we'll be very good. And we'll be very hungry. And hopefully we can stay healthy. Look, wouldn't you love to see us at full strength if we can be healthy when the playoffs start? We haven't had that yet. Hopefully, we'll get that next year."

Their fortunes will hinge largely on how well Rose recuperates from surgery to repair his torn anterior cruciate ligament. That's the biggest issue facing a team that will likely be without its superstar early next season, but it's not the only one.

There's Luol Deng's wrist injury and his decision to play for Great Britain in the Olympics, not to mention coach Tom Thibodeau's contract extension talks.

There will be plenty of time to reflect, too, and there is no shortage of haunting images.

Rose clutching his left knee with a torn ACL near the end of an impressive win in Game 1. The meltdown at home in the second half of Game 2. Noah spraining his left ankle when he stepped on Andre Iguodala's foot in Game 3.

There was a 3-1 deficit before the Bulls injected some life back into the series, only to see it unravel late in Game 6, just when they appeared ready to wrap up a win. That changed when C.J. Watson made a questionable decision to pass to Omer Asik, a poor foul shooter, on the break rather than hold onto the ball.

Asik missed two free throws with seven seconds left that would have given Chicago a three-point lead, and the defence parted, allowing Iguodala to go the length of the court. He got fouled by Asik going for a layup, made both shots, and that was it.

Ballgame. Season.

Question is: What now?

The team has options on Watson, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer, who said management told him they "were going to do everything they possibly can to try to bring me back."

They might want to bring in a point guard to hold down the position until Rose returns, although they don't have any cap room.

Deng has made it clear he intends to play in the Olympics even though he has a torn ligament in his left wrist. Noah hopes to play for France in the Olympics

And the team has an option on Thibodeau, who is 112-36 in two seasons. The Bulls tied San Antonio for the NBA's best record at 50-16 after winning a league-leading 62 games, even though they were rarely at full strength.

They went with their projected starting five just 15 times because of injuries. Richard Hamilton was sidelined for much of the season. Rose missed 27 games because of groin, back, toe, foot and ankle injuries, and the Bulls won 18 without him. They thought it would be more of the same in the playoffs. Instead, they bowed out early.

"I think it's important for everybody to regroup mentally and make another run at it," Noah said. "Because you know what? Derrick is going to come back. It's adversity. But it's just another challenge for us, like Thibs always says. We are very privileged people doing what we love to do. Let's get better this summer and come back hungrier than ever and make a run."

Derrick Rose (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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