Bulls' breakdown builds up Hawks

CHICAGO -- A critic could lose his edge trying to find fault with the Chicago Bulls ... until Monday night.

Rarely had the Bulls done anything wrong. They didn’t lose three straight games all season. They had, by any reasonable count, six or seven bad nights in a regular season that lasts 5 ½ months. The Bulls came closer to reaching their maximum potential than any team in the NBA this season, which is why Tom Thibodeau was named the league’s Coach of the Year Monday and why Derrick Rose will be named MVP any time now.

But a critic can have a field day between now and Wednesday night, because the Bulls violated the first tenant of big-time competition: they didn’t respect the opponent. The Bulls probably wouldn’t admit it, but the Hawks knew it, and so did pretty much anybody who’s seen the two teams play all season.

An Atlanta team in desperate need of a shot of confidence got it from the most unlikely source: its opponent. The Bulls decided to join Game 1 in progress, after the Atlanta Hawks had built a 10-point lead and began to feel good about themselves. Once interested, the Bulls cruised into the lead, then became passive once again, and the Hawks, probably relieved, found themselves hanging tough with a team they’d been battered by in two late regular-season games.

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