- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 3, 2005

For most of Game 4 of their first-round playoff series against the Washington Wizards last night, the Chicago Bulls reverted to the past.

But it wasn’t the glorious Michael Jordan-Phil Jackson era that produced six NBA championships that the Bulls summoned. Instead, they played liked what came after, the post-1998 futility.

In fact, the Bulls resembled the team that lost its first nine games this season more than the one that made the playoffs for the first time post-Jordan. As a result, the Bulls fell to the Wizards 106-99 at a packed and boisterous MCI Center to send the series back to Chicago tied at two games apiece.

After taking a 2-0 lead on their homecourt, the Bulls lost Saturday by 18 points at MCI in Game 3. Despite the score, much of Game 4 was worse. A late flurry combined with a mini-meltdown by the Wizards made things look close. The Bulls trailed by 28 early in the third quarter.

“For whatever reason, we played like a bunch of front-runners these couple of games,” second-year guard Kirk Hinrich said. “We got down and the crowd got into it, and for whatever reason we didn’t have the guts, and we couldn’t step up and make big plays, and we weren’t competing like we normally do. And defensively, we were awful. It’s definitely frustrating. We have to go back home and regroup.”

The Wizards played at the top of their game, but Chicago appeared stuck in the mud, their noted intensity missing. Perhaps the absence of injured starters Eddy Curry and Luol Deng began to take its toll. Or maybe the Bulls just hate playing at MCI, where they have lost 10 straight.

“It’s an understatement to say they attacked us and we didn’t have any answers,” Bulls coach Scott Skiles said. “We looked a little wide-eyed, and their athleticism and quickness clearly got us early.”

At one point, Skiles said, the Bulls were “panicky.”

Chicago missed its first five shots and fell behind 17-3. The Bulls waited more than five minutes for their first basket and wound up shooting 5-for-20 in the first quarter, which ended with them trailing by 14. The Wizards led 61-37 at halftime and built the lead early in the third quarter before the Bulls made a late run.

And yet another key player was hampered by injury. On Saturday, 7-foot-1 Tyson Chandler suffered a torn ligament and dislocated left ring finger. He toughed it out, but it can’t help. Then, Chris Duhon, the Bulls’ rookie point guard who was a big part of the 24-game turnaround from last year and this season’s comeback from the 0-9 start, suffered back spasms during the team shootaround yesterday afternoon.

Duhon, a key to the Bulls’ perimeter defense and second on the team in assists this year behind Hinrich, started the game, but his back stiffened after he came out for a substitution in the first quarter, and he was fairly useless after that. He played briefly at the end of the second quarter and spent the rest of the time spread out on the floor trying to work the soreness out. He did not play in the second half, getting treatment instead.

“I can’t stand up straight,” Duhon said after the game.

That meant more minutes for rookie guard Ben Gordon, whom Skiles likes to bring in to change the pace and spark the offense. Gordon has been bothered by a bad cold since the middle of last week. After missing seven of nine shots in Game 3, he said it wasn’t a problem. But he later said some cold medication had made him sick to his stomach. On Sunday, he said he was sick of talking about being sick and was resorting to vitamins.

This appeared to be the wrong prescription. Gordon shot 1-for-13.

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