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Chicago Bulls' John Lucas III left posts up Philadelphi76ers' Lou Williams during first half Game 4 first-round NBA basketball playoff

Chicago Bulls' John Lucas III, left, posts up on Philadelphia 76ers' Lou Williams during the first half of Game 4 in a first-round NBA basketball playoff series in Philadelphia, Sunday, May 6, 2012. The 76ers won 89-82. (AP Photo/The Wilmington News-Journal, Suchat Pederson) NO SALES

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Updated: June 8, 2012 8:15AM

PHILADELPHIA — The little guy is defiant to the end. At least give Bulls guard John Lucas III credit for that.

But the end is coming. If not Tuesday, then definitely Thursday, when the Bulls and Philadelphia 76ers are scheduled to play Game 6 of their first-round playoff series, if necessary.

It probably won’t be necessary. Just don’t tell Lucas that.

It wasn’t quite a guarantee after the Bulls’ 89-82 loss Sunday in Game 4 put them in a 3-1 hole in the series, but it was as close as any Bulls player was going to get to one.

‘‘We go out there and play, go out there and fight,’’ Lucas said. ‘‘We’re a never-say-die team. We’ve been through challenges all year. This is just another challenge, another hurdle for us to accomplish. And when we do accomplish it, we’re right back where we’re at.’’

When you do accomplish it?

‘‘We’re going to be ready on Tuesday,’’ he said. ‘‘At the end of the day, we’ll be there.’’

As the last three games have shown, just being
there isn’t enough. Not on this stage, not with Joakim Noah out with a badly sprained left ankle and definitely not without Derrick Rose, who was the best player on the court at the start of this series.

Coach Tom Thibodeau continues to rewind the tape in his head and repeat over and over, ‘‘We still have enough here to win,’’ but even that doesn’t feel like
it’s carrying much weight these days.

Just don’t remind the players of that. It seems pointing out the reality of the situation they’re in leads to some snappiness.

‘‘We’re not convincing ourselves of anything; we still have enough in here to win,’’ forward Taj Gibson responded when he was asked if Thibodeau’s mantra was becoming tougher to swallow. ‘‘You look at our record, and we had guys down all year long. Guys stepped up. We still have enough to win.

‘‘You look at how this game went, it was a one- or two-possession game all game long. They were up; we went up. It’s coming down to will. There’s a lot of basketball left to be played.’’

Not really, but let’s play pretend. Let’s talk about a dramatic last-stand home game to send the series back to the City of Brotherly Love. Let’s say the Bulls do claw their way back into the series, even win it.

What then? The story eventually is going to finish the same sad way.

The Bulls aren’t the only team with a false sense of reality, though. The 76ers seem to be having their own problems with delusions.

Minutes after the game Sunday, the legendary Julius Erving walked past the media line outside the Bulls’ locker room.

“Three-to-one, baby, one more game,’’ Dr. J said.

Really, Doc? The first quote out of the mouths of anyone associated with the 76ers should start like this: ‘‘Do you know how lucky we are that Derrick Rose isn’t playing? Thank you, torn ACL.’’

Instead, the 76ers are acting as though they are handling a Bulls team that’s at full strength.

Injuries are a part of the game, and no one is going to feel sorry about those injuries. But the 76ers aren’t winning this series so much as they are taking advantage of what is being handed to them.

‘‘We would love to be all healthy, but the cards have been dealt to us the way they are,’’ Lucas said. ‘‘We’ve been in every game here in Philly. It’s not like they’re blowing us out. It’s not like they’re winning by 10, 15, 20. It’s coming down to possessions.’’

No, it’s coming down to talent. Specifically, the talent that isn’t able to be on the floor.

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