Their morning shootaround had been canceled in favor of a team film session after Friday night's double-overtime loss and a 3 a.m. arrival at their downtown hotel.
The lessons got tougher once action began, even if a powerhouse Indiana team played without Reggie Miller, Jonathan Bender, Jeff Foster and Anthony Johnson and had its own early-morning arrival after a Friday victory in Boston.
For the second straight night, a gritty effort fell short, as Stephen Jackson's 24 points helped the Pacers improve to 3-0 in its home opener with a 100-90 victory. The Bulls have lost 13 straight games at Conseco.
Fred Jones entered and drained three three-pointers in 129 seconds to spark a 14-6 run that closed quarter with an 82-67 Pacers advantage. Good perimeter passing and poor defensive rotation left wide-open looks for Jones, who finished with 14 points.
The Bulls got a scare when Nocioni crumpled to the court just over two minutes into the fourth quarter after pump-faking and absorbing a solid blow from behind by O'Neal. He left for the locker room and didn't return because of a bruised back. He is listed as day-to-day.
The Bulls even had Nocioni playing center in one small lineup, and he actually drew an offensive foul on O'Neal. The Pacers' All-Star center shook off a sore left foot and foul trouble to score 15 points and take down 10 rebounds.
Deng's 25 points on 10-for-15 shooting led the Bulls. Nocioni added 10 points and seven rebounds. Gordon broke out with 17 points.
One night after logging 55 minutes, Kirk Hinrich fouled out with 8 minutes 36 seconds remaining. He finished with 12 points, seven assists and eight turnovers in 32 minutes.
"I felt better than I thought I would," an in-character Hinrich said, refusing to make excuses.
Deng flashed similar mettle, scoffing at the notion that his first set of back-to-back NBA games posed a challenge.
"It's mostly mental," Deng said. "It's kind of like having two hard practices. I talk to [veteran] Adrian Griffin a lot. He tells me to stretch a lot, drink a lot of fluids. Physically, I'm fine."
He certainly was in a dazzling first half in which he scored 15 points on 6-for-8 shooting, helping the Bulls stay within 54-49 at halftime. His catch and score off an errant alley-oop from Griffin should dispel all questions about Deng's athleticism.
Nocioni, 24, isn't the typical NBA rookie because of his wealth of international experience. But two-game weeks are the norm in Spain, where he played professionally.
"This is new," Nocioni said. "But in the Olympics, we played every day. This is no problem."