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Bulls say better team basketball key to overcoming loss of Derrick Rose

C.J. Watschallenges Bobcats’ ByrMullens. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

C.J. Watson challenges the Bobcats’ Byron Mullens. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: June 2, 2012 8:14AM

C.J. Watson needs to play the best basketball of his life, John Lucas III has to keep putting the ball in the basket, the front line must continue to dominate and Rip Hamilton and Kyle Korver will need to pick up the scoring slack if the Bulls are going to make a deep playoff run now that Derrick Rose is out for the rest of the postseason.

While that might be the prevailing logic after Rose tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee Saturday, that’s not the chord coach Tom Thibodeau struck Monday while preparing his team for Game 2 of its playoff series Tuesday against the Philadelphia 76ers.

‘‘Thibs was adamant that no one’s role needs to change,’’ Korver said. ‘‘Nobody needs to do more than before. We need to play better team basketball. When shots are there, we definitely need to take them. You can’t have guys passing up shots. We also don’t need guys trying to be Derrick Rose.’’

Based on what we’ve seen from the Bulls, who posted the best record in the league this season despite losing 98 games to injury or illness, the only way they’ll exit the postseason is scratching and clawing.

That’s why the first quarter of Game 2 might set the tone for what we see for the rest of the playoffs. Players are saying all the right things when talking about how they still can win without Rose, but a letdown wouldn’t be a failure so much as human nature.

Throughout the regular season, the Bulls said they would need Rose to play at his highest level for them to win a championship. Now they’re saying they can win without him.

Then again, what are they supposed to say?

‘‘I don’t know one good sports movie where the No. 1 seed just cruised to a championship,’’ Korver said before referring to a book by Donald Miller titled A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I learned to Live a Better Story. ‘‘I read a really good book a couple of months ago about the whole concept of story.

‘‘Most of us try to go through life trying to live the easiest and most comfortable life possible. If you look at that story at the end of the day, it’s not a story you would want to read. We’ve got a good story here. It’s going to be a little harder. We have to pull together a little tighter and we have to play a little better, but we can.’’

Thibodeau told the players it comes down to their identity as a team. He doesn’t want that to change. That means defense, rebounding, limiting turnovers, playing inside-out and sharing the ball. Those are things he wants players to focus on, regardless of whether Rose is in the lineup.

As for scoring, Thibodeau said he doesn’t think not having Rose’s production will be as detrimental as it would’ve been last season.

‘‘The thing about last year is we took two big hits with Carlos [Boozer] going down early and Jo [Noah] missing three months,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘Jo was playing at a very high level prior to his injury, averaging almost 15 points per game. That was a lot of scoring to lose. Derrick had to score big for us to be in position to win.

‘‘This year, our guys up front have been very healthy. We have six guys averaging in double figures. We feel good about scoring. We have enough scoring.’’

What the Bulls might miss most is Rose with the ball in his hands with the game on the line. But Watson, Lucas, Korver and Luol Deng all have made big shots in critical situations this season. If it comes down to one offensive possession to win the game, Thibodeau can put a lot of quality shooters on the floor.

Because the Bulls won’t be able to rely on Rose to close games, opposing defenses might struggle to know where the ball is going for a last-second shot.

‘‘Obviously, guys need to step up in different situations,’’ Korver said. ‘‘We’re used to Derrick taking big shots at the end of the game and creating a lot of things. But if we’re going to win this, it’s going to be because we played the best team basketball. We all know that.’’

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