CHICAGO (NBA.com exclusive) -- Teams find different sources of motivation in the course of the 82-game marathon, but would you believe elephants, lions and tigers, oh my?
The prospect of an annual circus trip provided no small boost for the Bulls in their much-needed 94-88 victory against the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night. Head coach Vinny Del Negro went with a seven-man rotation, partly because of matchups and partly because of the Barnum & Bailey Circus, which will occupy the United Center the next two weeks.
"They better -- it's a long one," Del Negro said when asked whether his team was prepared for the five-game, 10-day road journey ahead of them. "It is not easy."
In fact, the trip has been the scourge of many a Bulls team over the years.
"Definitely, this game was more important than normal for us," said guard Derrick Rose, who scored 14 points. "We wanted to gain some confidence before we went on the trip. Because of who we play, every game will be tough."
Only guard Kirk Hinrich and forward Brad Miller logged more than four minutes off the bench, and each was crucial to the outcome.
Hinrich scored 19 points and handed out seven assists, while Miller contributed 14 points and seven rebounds. Overall, the Bullpen outscored its counterpart by a 33-9 margin.
"The key to the game," Del Negro called the Hinrich-Miller duo. "They gave us a big boost."
All was not lost for the 76ers, though, as forward Elton Brand took a baby step forward on the comeback trail, finishing with 11 points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals in a second-high 31 minutes. He sat out the fourth quarter.
Brand had not played more than 29 minutes in any game this season. Better yet, he reported no pain in his right shoulder, which required surgery last season.
"Absolutely," Brand said when asked whether he would regain his form of three seasons ago. "There's no doubt in my mind."
"No doubt," Brand reiterated. "If you want to write that article, then go ahead."
Brand was active and productive at the outset. In the first 52 seconds, he drained a 12-foot fadeaway from the left block and drew a two-shot foul after a pump fake off a steal. He scored five points, grabbed three rebounds, handed out one assist and played the entire period without a break.
"The last time he was at peak, he averaged 20 [points] and 10 [rebounds]," head coach Eddie Jordan said. "If he can get to that point again, he'll help us a great deal.
"We understand that his play will pick up as he plays more. Right now, we're a little behind the eight ball because he's coming off an injury and hasn't played for two years. We have to have patience and confidence that he'll get to that level."
Still, Bulls forward Luol Deng knew from experience that it would take time for his fellow Duke product to turn back the clock completely. He sat out much of last season because of a fractured tibia.
"Achilles injuries are very tough ones, but even tougher for big guys," Deng said. "Your lower body isn't used to the pounding when you come back, but your instincts take over eventually. Elton Brand is a hard worker, and I believe that he'll get it back."
"It's going to be a process," Brand agreed. "How much time will it take? I'm not sure. I was pretty close a few games but didn't get the minutes. I have to play well to get minutes. I have to plug away."
For a young and athletic Sixers team, the problem may not be Brand but the absence of established lead guards to distribute the ball in the newly adopted Princeton offense.
The Sixers shot out to a 20-6 lead before a slew of mental and physical mistakes allowed the Bulls to get back in the game. Point guards Lou Williams and Willie Green combined for one assist in the period, while combo guard Andre Iguodala was guilty of three turnovers.
"The offense will be good for everybody once we understand it and use to the best of our abilities," Brand said. "We're still learning the offense. The coaches adjust to what they see in the game. They're not like 'OK, we're going to run the Princeton offense.'"
After Brand paused for effect, he added with the hint of a smile, "You know, I went to Duke. I can't do any Princeton stuff."