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Bulls must win and go home

Bulls guard John Lucas III drives basket while defended by Sixers guard Evan Turner first half. The Chicago Bulls were

Bulls guard John Lucas III drives to the basket while defended by Sixers guard Evan Turner in the first half. The Chicago Bulls were defeated 109-92 by the Philadelphia 76er's in game two of the first round of the NBA playoffs Tuesday May 1, 2012 at the United Center in Chicago. | TOM CRUZE~Sun-Times

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Updated: June 11, 2012 10:22AM



The odds are against it, but the Bulls have a chance to win Game 6 Thursday against the 76ers in Philadelphia.

This, obviously, is the Bulls’ biggest game of the season. Lose, and it’s over. All of us can cradle our heads and say, What the hell happened this season?

Win, and there will be a Game 7 at the United Center. And that will be one rowdy event, the madhouse advantage to prove the Bulls’ best regular-season record in the NBA had a purpose.

Is it possible the Bulls suddenly have adapted to playing without injured stars Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, both of whom went out within the last 10 days?

This is possible.

Knowing a teammate is gone can be easier than wondering when he’ll be back.

If Noah is ready for this game, swell. If not, backup center Omer Asik just showed he can play 28 minutes of playoff ball. How else would we know?

The Bulls’ 77-69 victory in Game 5 was a fierce, therefore ugly, battle. But it showed the way the depleted team can win — willful, fearless defense and opportunistic offense.

And then pray, as forward Taj Gibson said after the game, that once again, “the basketball gods [are] with us.’’

In truth, ferocity is the only god the Bulls can count on. And Gibson, whose sprained right ankle is just one more worry for the Bulls, knows it.

Told of the stunning fact that the victorious Bulls shot only 36 percent from the free-throw line, Gibson said, “The game came down to defense and will. You can’t always count on shots going in.’’

Who knows how heavy Philly’s home-court advantage will be for Game 6?

Coach Doug Collins is crafty and wise, and the Philly fans are, shall we say, less than courteous. And how will the refs be affected?

Game 5 refs Ken Mauer, Leon Wood and Bill Kennedy were the kind of fellows who would let a knife fight go on as long as blood didn’t spatter too much. Philadelphia center Spencer Hawes finished the game with a dandy claw mark on his temple and cheek, and guard “Little Lou’’ Williams could’ve won a global hand-slap contest, he was so animated on defense.

“Playoff basketball,’’ shrugged Bulls guard John Lucas III, who has gone from being a cute ­addition to a vital cog in the Bulls’ patched-together wheel.

JL3 is the guy who was right there near the Elton Brand-Gibson double-technical pileup. And he’s the one always seeming to be able to fight through bigger guys and launch big shots.

Who knows about this one?

It was no more than 48 hours ago that Chicago sports radio was flooded with callers saying the Bulls must dump power forward Carlos Boozer and his medieval jumper and banish Luol Deng and his battered body to the halls of an old men’s infirmary.

They said Boozer was a liability and Deng a dong, especially with the 76ers’ Andre Iguodala draped on him.

All Boozer and Deng did was score 43 points between them, with 21 rebounds, seven assists and three blocked shots.

All you Iguodala lovers? How does 4-for-19 from the field sound, with four rebounds?

What the Bulls have to do is ratchet everything up to the max level without detonating.

Yes, they have lost last season’s MVP and their best big man, but they were the No. 1 team coming into the playoffs, and Philly was the No. 8 seed.

There has to be some wiggle room left. There must be some basic margin by which the Bulls are still better than the 76ers. Or at least a fair competitor.

As stated, this is the game.

Get to a Game 7, and the Bulls would have to be seen as favorites.

Lose Game 6, and the pain of watching the Heat likely sail to the NBA Finals, because the Bulls caved in, might be worse than thinking about all the changes the team must make this long summer off.



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