Head coach Tom Thibodeau was adamant throughout the preseason that the regular season opener against the Heat was just another game -- one of 82. It's a message his players followed to a T after being locked down throughout the night by LeBron James & Co.
"We have the whole season to make a statement," Bulls point guard Derrick Rose said after his eagerly awaited return from a knee injury. "If it was just a one-game season, that's something we'd be worried about we would be out.
“But for us it's building every game. We know that we have a special team. We know that we work hard. It's just us jelling and getting our chemistry."
Joakim Noah was even more forthright in his commentary. He admitted that while it was tough to lose to the Heat -- a team he and his teammates desperately wanted to beat -- he is convinced better days are ahead.
"No excuses," Noah said. "They kicked our ass tonight, but we'll be back. It's a long journey. It's a lot of basketball to be played."
That's the problem for the Bulls, though. Obviously, they will have better nights than they did on Tuesday. Rose will get back into a rhythm with his teammates, Noah will be in better shape after he fully recovers from a groin injury and Luol Deng can't play much worse than he did on Tuesday.
The issue for Thibodeau's team is that Miami's dominance was another reminder just how wide of a gap there remains between the squads. The Bulls believe they have their best team since the last Michael Jordan-led championship run in 1998. But if they can't find a way to get through James, what difference does it make?
The old issues the Bulls have had against the Heat were revisited on Tuesday night -- even with Rose back in the lineup.
Miami was faster up and down the floor, solid in facets of its defensive plan and controlled the tempo most of the night. Most of all, the Heat didn't allow Rose to be Rose. Obviously, he still has some rust to shake off after being out for a year and a half, but the Heat have always done a good job of not allowing him to get into a groove. They did that again on this night.
According to ESPN Stats & Information data, Rose is 5-6 against the Heat, shooting 36.4 percent from the field and averages 3.5 turnovers a game since the start of the 2010-11 season.
When Rose is shut down, the Bulls don't have anywhere else to turn. Carlos Boozer had a nice game but it wasn't as though the Bulls were running sets for him all the time. A lot of his points came from cleaning up around the basket.
"For Game 1, I think their execution was pretty impressive," Noah said of the Heat. "But we made a lot of mistakes. Our offense is not where it needs to be. We're not getting to our third, fourth options. Against the bad teams, we can score on our first or second options. Against the championship teams, we've got to get to our third or fourth options to score. We're not there yet.
“We haven't had that chemistry to play with each other, but I'm telling you the character on this team is great. Everybody's going to work hard, and next time we play the Heat we will be a lot better."
But why should anyone believe that?
The Bulls have had success against the Heat in the regular season, but they've been knocked out of the postseason by Miami two out of the past three years.
Obviously, they didn't have Rose a season ago, and that made a huge difference. But that doesn't change the fact that the Bulls are lacking secondary scoring. Jimmy Butler had 20 points but was stuck in foul trouble most of the first half. He may take another step in his progression this year, but it's a major stretch to think he can average 20 points every night and create his own shot when needed.
Thibodeau's team is still missing another consistent option outside of Rose, and that was on full display again Tuesday night just like it had been countless other times over the past three seasons.
"They've been together for a long time," Thibodeau said of the Heat. "And they have a style of play, an identity, and they have great players that are willing to sacrifice for each other. So when you have that, you're going to be good; they've won a lot of games. To beat them you have to play for 48 minutes, and you can't have a stretch like we did in the second quarter."
In order to avoid such stretches, the Bulls need something that they still don't have -- another primary scorer to take the pressure of Rose.
All the hard work and determination will only go so far against a team like Miami. No matter how the Bulls tried to spin it late Tuesday night, their issues against the team to beat are the same as they've always been.