CHICAGO -- In a season full of ups and downs, the Chicago Bulls have hit the highest of highs and the lowest of lows in a five-day span.
On Wednesday night at home, the Bulls, playing without Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose, Marco Belinelli and Rip Hamilton, snapped the Miami Heat's 27-game winning streak and stunned the basketball world in the process.
On Saturday afternoon, playing without the same foursome, the Bulls blew a 12-point lead late in the fourth quarter to the Dallas Mavericks and lost in startling fashion.
Given the way the Bulls imploded in Texas, it wouldn't have been surprising to see Tom Thibodeau's team lose focus and drop a game to the lowly Detroit Pistons on Sunday night back home. But as has been the case repeatedly throughout the coach’s tenure here, his team found a way to pull out a 95-94 squeaker, securing its 18th consecutive victory over the Pistons.
Despite all the emotional circumstances, how do the Bulls continue to find ways to win after such painful losses?
"We don't like losing," Bulls forward Luol Deng said. "We've got great character guys. We prepare well. The coaching staff does a good job of getting us ready and recognizing why we lost and doing a better job the next day."
While there's no question the coaching staff has a lot to do with the fact the Bulls have found ways to succeed even when the deck is stacked against them, the reality is the game plan is only as good as the players who put it into motion.
In that regard, Deng's 28-point, nine-rebound performance in 42 minutes set the tone the rest of his teammates followed. On a night when the Bulls needed a jolt mentally and physically, Deng once again provided it when his team needed it most.
"I felt a little tired. But when you look over at Lu, it's just like you're not tired," Bulls guard Jimmy Butler said. "Because he does this constantly.”
“He does this 82 games [a season],” Butler added. “But whenever you've got the energy that we have, it's easier to push through the fatigue."
Or the heartbreak.
Butler was understandably tough on himself after Saturday's loss because he clanked two free throws in the waning moments. For him, Sunday's win was more than just another victory in an up-and-down season; it was a reminder that Deng and the rest of his teammates have his back in any situation.
"It meant a lot to me," Butler said of his own performance. "But I feel like even if I wouldn't have done well, my teammates would have been on my side, I can say that. They're with me whenever I was down in the dumps after [Saturday's] loss and they're here with me today on a nice bounce back.
“So I feel like no matter what, my team's always there with me."
There's the key to Thibodeau's recipe: No matter the situation, no matter the obstacles, he has conditioned his team to believe they can always find a way to come out on top.
The Bulls aren't successful just because they have talent; they're successful because they always believe that when they fall down, they will get back up and go higher.
"Because we believe in each other," Bulls forward Taj Gibson explained. "And we've got guys that could be starters anywhere else. But they're just humble and they understand what they have to do and nobody's pointing fingers. Nobody's like, 'It's all about me.'"
“It's all about the team, really,” he said, “and that's how we're playing. And we understand that we're playing for something great.
“We've got a great chance to do something special this year, and we just keep playing."
That's the message Thibodeau has been trying to sell since he came to Chicago, and that's the one his team is buying into more than at any other point this season.
"It's coming from the top down," Gibson said. "But everybody's kind of believing it now. Thibs can preach it all year long, but it's all about the players that really believe in it. And now I think that we're really believing in it, and it's showing the way we're playing."