PHILADELPHIA (AP) - The Philadelphia 76ers are no longer just a mere stepping stone for the Chicago Bulls on their way to tougher battles in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
They're a major hurdle now.
Losing reigning NBA MVP Derrick Rose had an immediate impact on the top-seeded Bulls in this first-round series. After dominating the Sixers in the opener, they were routed 109-92 in Game 2 Tuesday night.
Now the best-of-seven series shifts to Philadelphia on Friday night. The underdog Sixers are confident about their chances.
They should be, considering how Chicago played without Rose.
``I told our guys, `We have a great opportunity. Let's take advantage of this','' Sixers coach Doug Collins said.
The Bulls were 18-9 without Rose in the regular season, but it's a different situation now. The superstar guard tore a knee ligament in the final minutes of Game 1 and will miss the rest of the playoffs.
He may not miss much if the Bulls don't figure things out quickly.
``Derrick is not here. This is a different team,'' Bulls forward Luol Deng said. ``Go back and watch how we won those games (without Rose). It's not one guy who has to go out of character. We're a team and we'll get it done together.''
The Bulls went 50-16 on their way to the best record in the conference because they have more than just Rose. There's Deng, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, Richard Hamilton and C.J. Watson, too.
``I think everybody has the right intentions on this team,'' Noah said. ``That's why we're the No. 1 seed. We've dealt with a lot of adversity. There's really no excuses at this point.
``We've got to fight, though.''
The Sixers stumbled into the playoffs after an excellent start. They led the Atlantic Division at the midpoint of the season before tailing off. The Bulls, meanwhile, steamrolled through the Central Division and earned the No. 1 seed for the second year in a row.
A playoff rematch against LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat seemed inevitable in the conference finals. The Heat beat the Bulls in five games in the East Finals last year.
But without Rose, the Bulls can't look that far ahead.
``It's just one game. The series ain't over. If anything, it's just beginning,'' Bulls guard John Lucas III said. ``This is win or go home. It's gut-check time. So we're going to go out there and play. We're going to get ready. We're going to come out with a lot of energy like we do all the time. This time we're not going to lose it; we're going to grind it out. It's going to be different now.
``Everybody's saying this and that. All we've got is ourselves. We're a unit. We're a family. What we want to happen will happen. We just have to stay together.''
The Sixers became the first No. 8 seed in the East to win on the road since 2003, and the 17-point margin was the second-highest in that span. Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner were outstanding in Game 2, Lou Williams provided a spark off the bench and Andre Iguodala played his usual strong defense.
``For the first time in a long time, our defense dictated our offense,'' Iguodala said. ``We rebounded the ball. Evan and myself pushed it out on the break and we finished pretty well.''
Back home after playing seven consecutive games on the road, the Sixers had Wednesday off. They'll hit the practice floor Thursday before taking the court at the Wells Fargo Center for the first time in 17 days Friday.
A fan base that was more focused on the Flyers' run in the NHL playoffs, the Phillies' slow start and the Eagles' draft is turning some of its attention to the Sixers. They're excited about the possibility of pulling off a first-round upset, an idea that seemed remote just a week ago.
``You've got to raise your level of play. Raise your intensity,'' said Turner, who was back in the starting lineup after coming off the bench in Game 1. ``Just being able to win on the road. That's really important. Beating them on the rebounding battle showed that we can do it.
``It sets the standard for how we need to play in order to win.''