Bulls quiet Wolves for another preseason win


Oct 15

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If the playoff started today—that’s right; we can’t wait—the Bulls would be fourth in the Eastern Conference with home court advantage and a first round playoff series with Ben Gordon and the Detroit Pistons.

We could only hope. What fun that would be.

But it’s mid-October, the regular season starts in two weeks and there is no championship trophy for the best record in the exhibition season.

The Bulls continued to pursue it, though, Wednesday as they moved to 4-1 for the preseason with a 99-94 victory in Minneapolis, and, right, it doesn’t mean that much. Derrick Rose and Tyrus Thomas remained out with injuries. And Brad Miller remained home with the flu. Given he’s from Indiana it could be swine or creamed corn variety. Nah, probably not.

But while the overall results can be dismissed, there were some important positives in the Bulls victory. Chris Richard, the 6-9 free agent forward from the U. of Florida who played for the Timberwolves last season, led the Bulls with 17 points and 13 rebounds in by far his best performance of the preseason.

Much of that came in a hectic fourth quarter when a fivesome of Bulls reserves—six when Taj Gibson fouled out and was replaced by Lindsey Hunter—kicked away an 11-point lead and Minnesota took a lead with under four minutes. But James Johnson with a tip in and drive and Richard with a tip and some free throws pulled out the game for the Bulls.

So the result, even though the Bulls can say they are Central Division leaders for now, would have been relatively meaningless after the Bulls starters dominated most of the game.

It was a particularly important showing for both Luol Deng with 14 points and John Salmons with 16 as both shot 50 percent and carried the Bulls through their best quarter of the preseason.

That was when the Bulls took a 32-16 lead after one quarter as both Salmons and Deng shot the ball well and Deng closed the quarter with a three on a drive and kick pass from Jannero Pargo. Kirk Hinrich also hit a pair of threes after the Bulls opened trailing 5-0 and the Bulls drilled the Timberwolves with 65 percent shooting in the quarter.

Joakim Noah also continued his aggressive, clever play with 14 points on seven of eight shooting and seven rebounds as Noah outplayed both Al Jefferson and Kevin Love and showed a deft move to the left and strong left hand to finish. It’s another addition to Noah’s game that demonstrates how hard he did work this summer and how seriously he now is taking the game.

“(Noah) was on the screen-and-roll where he was diving and getting some easy layups and dunks, and made a couple of under-control little lefthanded hooks in the lane,” noted Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “Then at the elbow, when guys get up on him, he has the ability to put that one or two dribbles down and get to the rim to put that pressure on the defense. He was active and I liked his activity tonight.”

Although Richard was the leading scorer, the Bulls got another solid effort from Vanderbilt free agent guard Derrick Byars, who is shooting 46 percent on threes and was two for three from the field in limited play. Both Richard and Byars are longshots to make the team given the roster and salary situation. But it would seem Byars could be a valuable addition at some point.

The Bulls’ defense also was sharper, and in trying to develop a foundation of some sort for this season, the Bulls seem to be working hardest on double teaming or trapping the pick and roll in the post. That requires the big men to recover quickly and considerable help on the weak side. It worked relatively well against the Timberwolves, who seem to be trying to develop a form of the triangle offense with new coach Kurt Rambis. But with Jefferson more accustomed to playing out of the post and in isolations, their offense was shaky and geometrically ill-formed.

The Bulls led by double digits throughout the second quarter as Noah went to the basket hard for a slam dunk and a spin back with a nice left handed layin.

“It’s all about improving right now,” said Noah. “It’s our first back-to-back. Just having two wins in a row and just coming out with the right mindset, I think that’s important especially for our younger players, for them to realize that that we just have to come ready to play every time we strap up.”

The Timberwolves cut into the lead in the third quarter before Gibson had a nice stretch with two offensive rebounds on one possession, an offensive rebound on the next one with a spin lack left for a layup and a straightaway 17 footer to put the Bulls back up 12 after Salmons added a three on a nice fast break of Hinrich to Deng to an open Salmons in the right corner. Deng sustained a dislocated pinky finger, but said he could have returned after straightening it himself. Ouch!

Minnesota was led by their point guards, the speedy rookie Jonny Flynn, and Ramon Sessions, each with 13. Flynn is another one of those jets like the Bulls saw in Milwaukee’s Brandon Jennings, but also with a weak shot as Flynn went to the free throw line for the majority of his points.

Gibson finished with six points and six rebounds and Johnson nine points and 10 rebounds, though Johnson with a shaky shot airballed consecutive jumpers at one point. He did look sharp with his strong finish to hold off the Timberwolves.

“I thought we did a lot of good things and shared the ball well,” said Deng. “We have to limit our turnovers (21 for 28 points) a little bit. But I thought overall we came out aggressive and moved the ball. It’s tough (dealing with the injuries to key players). We’re not going to know what kind of team we’re going to have until about a month into the season. Definitely with those two guys back, we’re a lot better as a team and deeper.”

And so far leading the Cavs in the standings and pushing the Celtics. If only it were March and the Bulls could say that.

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