CHICAGO -- Even in his second language, Marco Belinelli summarized the state of the Bulls ably.
"We played tough, but it's on to the next one," the Italian guard said. "It's tough, but just keep going."
The Bulls don't do moral victories, particularly when a tough stretch of the schedule looms. So despite a valiant, short-handed effort that came up short against the Pacers, the Bulls go back to work Tuesday at practice in San Antonio after a Monday break involving treatment and individual workouts.
The Bulls changed their itinerary to fly late Monday and beat the advancing snowstorm predicted for Chicago.
Seven straight games against the tougher Western Conference begin Wednesday in San Antonio, where the NBA-leading Spurs are without Tony Parker but are 24-3 at home. Four of those seven games are on the road. Four also are against projected playoff teams.
After that stretch, the Bulls play the Pacers again March 23 at the United Center. The Pacers have won all three previous meetings, and the respect between the teams is evident.
"They're a terrific team despite (Derrick) Rose being out," Pacers center Roy Hibbert said. "They're always going to play extremely hard. (Joakim) Noah is an All-Star. We knew they'd play hard."
That dynamic extended to rare appearances by several players. With Kirk Hinrich out because of a sore right foot and Nate Robinson nursing sore ribs and in foul trouble, Marquis Teague logged a season-high 27 minutes, 31 seconds. Nazr Mohammed turned in his best performance of the season with seven points, five rebounds and two blocks.
Even Vladimir Radmanovic got into the mix with a baseline dunk and two blocks, not to mention four fouls in just shy of 11 minutes.
"They played really well," Noah said of the seldom-used reserves. "That's what we need every night, a team effort and everybody to be into it. It was good that a lot of guys stepped up. If we keep this mentality, good things could happen for us."
For great things to occur, the Bulls need everybody healthy, including Rose, who sat on the bench in street clothes for the first time this season. They're not beating the Heat with Radmanovic and Mohammed seeing extended action.
But with this tough stretch looming and the Bulls banged up, those players might need to contribute in the short term.
"You never know sometimes," Belinelli said.
Belinelli himself logged close to 45 minutes, scoring 20 points and serving as the primary ballhandler down the stretch because of his pick-and-roll ability.
"We played tough, aggressive, against one of the best teams in the league," Belinelli said. "We lost in the last couple seconds. We moved the ball side to side and played good defense. That was important for us."
And with Taj Gibson out for sure against the Spurs and Hinrich and Richard Hamilton possibly sidelined again, bench play might remain important for a while.
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