Scottie Pippen encourages Bulls
Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen encouraged Chicago Bulls players, still dealing with the loss of Derrick Rose to a knee injury, that they are "still the best team in the NBA ... so go out there and play like it" before Game 2 of their playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday.
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"Yes, you lost one of your brothers -- a warrior in every sense of the word -- but I know and you know you've still got a lot of fight left," Pippen wrote in a letter to the team posted on the Bulls website Tuesday. "You're still the best team in the NBA until an opponent proves otherwise. So go out there and play like it. You've earned that much with Derrick along the way, but you also won a lot of games without him. It's time to meet the challenge."
Rose tore his left ACL with 1:22 left in the Bulls' Game 1 win on Saturday, and he'll miss the rest of the postseason. He visited with teammates at practice on Monday, and attended Game 2 on Tuesday night at the United Center.
The Bulls tied with the San Antonio Spurs for the best record in the NBA at 50-16. They went 18-9 without Rose during the season and will now have to rely on backups C.J. Watson, John Lucas III and Mike James to fill in for the reigning MVP.
Lucas is hopeful that his team will be able to rally in Rose's absence.
"Derrick reached out to everybody," Lucas said. "Said let's get it going, let's bring that ring back to Chicago and we'll go from there. ... He's our captain and that has not changed. He's always with me, talking to me [about] what I need to do better, what I can do better. When you have a leader like that who gets everybody motivated, it's always a plus."
Pippen, who as a team ambassador sat courtside for many games this season, believes the team is up to the challenge.
"Yes, Derrick was the reigning NBA MVP, but he epitomizes the team concept and you all followed his lead," wrote Pippen, who won six NBA titles alongside Michael Jordan in the 1990s. "So it's been the effort of the group, as well as a tremendous job by the coaching staff, which has gotten us to this point. And it's exactly why I feel good about this team right now. You're a group that remains together. You've repeatedly lifted each other up when a teammate has fallen.
"Now, it comes down to continuing to give your best effort every time you step on to the basketball court. It's easy to say you're doing that, but are you really dedicating yourself to another two months of basketball? As a player, that's what I always wanted out of my teammates. Just make sure you arrive on gameday focused and full of energy. If guys want to just show up and take on the 76ers or whoever, well, that might not be enough to get the job done. It takes locking in on the task at hand and honing in on what you need to do in order to be successful in the NBA postseason."
With Rose facing a six- to nine-month rehab following surgery, Pippen wrote that the best tribute the Bulls could make to their injured leader is to win.
"With or without Derrick, the ship has to continue to sail," Pippen wrote. "And as he told many of you, it's time to re-dedicate yourselves to staying on track. I know none of you are ready to stop working and you want more than anything to win for Derrick. That's the best tribute you could make for him. And in a way, it would very much make him a part of it.
"He'll be with you the rest of the way whether he's in the gym or not, watching and supporting. While you hate to see what happened happen, adversity often brings a team together even more than they were before. It's all about how you react to that adversity."
Coach Tom Thibodeau wants his team to focus on its core principles and block out everything else.
"It's everyone's biggest challenge because it's the next game," he said. "That never changes. We don't have to adjust -- our team, everybody. It comes down to everybody has to do their job. If we're relying on outside things and what other people say ... what other people say really doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is what we think. And so if we focus in on everybody doing their job, we'll be fine."
Watson knows that the start of Game 2 will be critical for his team.
"It's definitely critical for both teams," Watson said. "More so for [the 76ers] because we lost our star player and we have a lot of passion and intensity to play and win the game for him."
ESPNChicago.com's Nick Friedell contributed to this report.