The Bulls entered Conseco Fieldhouse early Saturday evening with bags under their eyes and Gatorade in their bodies.
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 NBA schedule never stops, which is why the education for rookies Ben Gordon, Luol Deng and Andres Nocioni continued with afternoon naps and as much fluid as possible.
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.
The game turned late in the third quarter, with Ron Artest and Jermaine O'Neal on the bench with four fouls each for Indiana.
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.
Foul trouble hurt the Bulls, who were already without the suspended Antonio Davis and Eddy Curry. Both are eligible to play Tuesday against Phoenix.
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."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times