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Showing fight in a losing battle

Joakim Noah Derrick Rose had few fourth-quarter answers for Thunder Wednesday.

Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose had few fourth-quarter answers for the Thunder on Wednesday.

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If you aspire to be a quality team in the NBA -- a team that easily makes the playoffs and is a threat to go deep -- there's no such thing as an acceptable loss. With that said, some losses are more acceptable than others.

So while the Bulls were upset with their fourth-quarter collapse in a season-opening 106-95 loss Wednesday at Oklahoma City, there also was a degree of optimism in the postgame locker room as the players and coaches talked about what went wrong and what went right.

''If you take away the fourth quarter -- not even the whole fourth quarter; just the end right there when they made a run -- I thought to come in and play the way we did was a good sign,'' forward Luol Deng said.

''There's going to be a lot of games that we play away in that will be close. We have guys that are just going to compete. The last few years, I haven't seen that.''

That's a strong statement, but I have to agree with Deng that there was a little something lacking in the mental toughness area the last couple of years -- and that's why road wins against good teams were few and far between.

And before anyone confuses the point, it had nothing to do with the coaching of Vinny Del Negro and it's not an indictment of the players the Bulls let go after last season.

It's just that those teams often let things snowball on the road. They were undermanned against quality opponents, they knew they were undermanned and that probably had a negative effect on their mental toughness.

But even though this season's Bulls currently are playing without Carlos Boozer -- who is the main reason for optimism behind Derrick Rose -- the Bulls showed a lot of fight against an emerging young team in a hostile environment.

The turnovers, silly fouls and offensive uncertainty that resulted in Wednesday's loss are things that can be corrected, but a team either has heart or it doesn't.

''We obviously have to get better, and we understand that, but I think there was a lot of good that came out of this game as well,'' center Joakim Noah said. ''It's disappointing, obviously, to lose, especially a game that we felt was winnable, but it's an 82-game season and we have to get better and understand there's a next one coming up in a couple of days.''

The biggest chance in the next couple of days is the schedule. Instead of facing the Thunder on the road, the Bulls play the Detroit Pistons Saturday night in their home opener at the United Center.

Still, there are a few things coach Tom Thibodeau will want to address before the Bulls take the court again.

The first area is fouling. Being defensive-minded doesn't mean being a high-foul team. The Bulls had too many fouls against Oklahoma City and that resulted in a 47-22 disadvantage in free-throw attempts. Worse, Rose had to sit for a long stretch in each half with foul trouble and was out of rhythm when he returned in the fourth quarter.

''We gave them too many free throws,'' Rose said. ''We bailed out on shots instead of taking charges. That stuff can be fixed just by practicing.''

The other major issue was a stagnant offense down the stretch. Thibodeau wants ball movement and player movement on offense, but that disappeared in the fourth after producing in 82 points on 50-percent shooting through three quarters.

''In the fourth quarter, we held onto it and we were standing too much,'' Thibodeau said. ''The first three quarters, we kept moving it, we didn't hold onto the ball. Once we started holding onto the ball, it became harder to score.''

Playing consistently on the road against good teams will be a challenge while Boozer is sidelined -- especially if Ronnie Brewer continues to miss everything badly, including layups -- but the Bulls should be fine if they continue to show the fight they did in the opener.



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