- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 4, 2005

The Chicago Bulls know exactly how the Washington Wizards felt after the first two games of their first-round playoff series.

Like they just had taken a sucker punch to the midsection.

After two lopsided road losses that left the series at 2-2, the Bulls return home to the United Center tonight for Game 5, hoping they have left that pain back in Washington. And who could blame them?

The Bulls went from averaging 108 points in two games on their home floor to looking lost and befuddled on the MCI Center court, unable to shoot better than 40 percent from the field.

“It’s just frustrating,” Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich said following his 6-for-17 shooting performance Monday in Game 4, a 106-99 loss the Wizards controlled from the opening minute. “We did not play to our capabilities here. We played like a bunch of front-runners here. For whatever reason, we did not have the guts, and we could not step up and make big plays. We were not competing like we normally would, and defensively we were awful. We definitely have to go home and regroup.”

That’s exactly what the Wizards did after losing the first two games of the series in Chicago. But as bad as the situation they were in headed into Game 3, it’s nothing compared to that of the Bulls now.

Chicago began the series down two starters — center Eddy Curry and small forward Luol Deng, both out with injuries. Then, during the team’s shoot-around before Game 4, rookie guard Chris Duhon suffered a back injury that rendered him almost useless. After playing two well-balanced games in Chicago, Duhon played nine minutes Monday and finished with a clean line on the stat sheet save for a turnover. His status for tonight is questionable.

Making matters worse, key reserves Tyson Chandler (dislocated finger) and Ben Gordon (head cold), who was named the league’s top sixth man yesterday, are not 100 percent.

Plus, the young Bulls didn’t help themselves in either loss at MCI Center, committing one of the major sins of playoff basketball by letting the home team get out early.

The Wizards capitalized on Chicago’s slow starts, and MCI Center immediately turned into a miserably uncomfortable cauldron for the Bulls. The fans waved white towels over their heads in unison, and the incessant, thundering chants of “Defense!” rattled the rafters.

“We looked panicky out there,” Bulls coach Scott Skiles said. “We seemed to wilt under what was going on out there, and that was disappointing. We thought we had more life than that.”

Despite the transfer of gloom and doom to the Bulls, the Wizards are not taking Game 5 for granted. They know they can’t afford to rush shots or play the same laughably bad defense they did in the first two games of the series; otherwise, Friday’s Game 6 at MCI Center could be about staving off elimination.

“There is some sort of comfort level in that we know what to expect going into Chicago this time. The first two games we didn’t,” Jordan said. “I think that is an advantage.

“But we’re expecting 23,000 people to be there to boo us and cheer against us. This time I feel like we’re prepared for that. We’ll see.”

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