Bulls ready for season as they dominate Wizards


Oct 24

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or their Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

It looks like the Bulls, even with Derrick Rose still resting a sore ankle, may be ready for the regular season with Friday’s dominating 93-70 win over the Washington Wizards.

And it sounds like Brad Miller, with 18 points and a game high seven assists cleverly working his old Sacramento high post passing game, may be set as well as he considered the game’s turning point early in the third quarter when Joakim Noah actually hit a 16 foot jump shot.

“Now he’s made two shots over 10 foot in his career,” observed Miller. “They were both in the preseason. The one at the elbow (Friday) was the second longest shot of his career including high school and international and everything.”

Yes, it was all smiles as the Bulls finished the preseason, still without Rose and Friday also without guards Kirk Hinrich and Jannero Pargo contemplating minor injuries, with a 6-2 record and the kind of all around scoring and defensive performance they are counting on to carry them through this season.

“I have a great feeling from a team standpoint,” said Tyrus Thomas, back starting and leading the team with 19 points and every bit as cocky as he’s been all preseason.

“I’m a ballplayer,” Thomas said about playing small forward much of the game. “Everybody should know that. I’m comfortable everywhere on the floor. Just put me on the floor. I can help the team wherever.”

Noah added 13 points and 16 rebounds, John Salmons had 14 points with a turn at point guard for emergency starter Lindsey Hunter, who was predictably scoreless, and Taj Gibson came off the bench to add 13 points in another solidly impressive outing for the rookie.

“Playing out west people didn’t see me, didn’t know who I was,” said Gibson.

He is opening some eyes.

“We are deeper, more versatility,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro in summing up the preseason and the somewhat revised roster.  “We have continuity that needs be built at both ends of the court.  That will come when we get our whole group together.   We have areas to improve on (but)  I liked our effort, our demeanor. We have a difficult (early) schedule, but I have a lot of confidence in my guys. We have to get healthy and get on the same page with Derrick and Kirk and Jannero getting back and get some kind of rotation down. We’ll go with the guys who are going to play hard and give us the best chance.”

And so it’s time.

The 2009-10 NBA regular season officially begins Tuesday. The referees will return with a new contract, and the Bulls will be among the last teams to start on Thursday, hosting the San Antonio Spurs. It’s a challenging start with Game 2 a second of a back to back Friday in Boston, then onto Miami Sunday, back home to face the Bucks Tuesday Nov. 3 and then to Cleveland Thursday for the second straight Thursday night TNT national game.

“Our confidence is really good,” insisted Miller, who’ll back up Noah. “Our chemistry is really good. Off the court also, which makes the season enjoyable. Guys enjoy going out and playing together. The early season will be a good test. But we played (a tough) seven game series last year. That was a good test. San Antonio will be great test. Boston back to back is a great test. We look forward to challenge.”

So we’ll get some early grades for these young Bulls, and there’s no dropping this course.

It’s a big season for the franchise after allowing leading scorer Ben Gordon to leave via free agency and committing to making a major run for a big time free agent next summer. The plan is to pair that All Star level player with Rose, who’ll hopefully be an All Star by then and some top line supporting players like Noah, Thomas, Deng and Salmons.

It’s a plan, but there’s a long season to go first.

Noah has been perhaps the most consistent performer of the preseason, averaging 10.3 points, 8.5 rebounds and two blocks per game while averaging 27 minutes. He’s been in good condition and consistently active.

And just as quirky.

When a reporter after Friday’s game commented that Noah seemed more confident on the offensive end, Noah turned and softly said, “Thank you.”

“He came into camp in shape and he is continuing to build,” said Del Negro.  “His approach and his focus are really good.  He is getting a little more confidence in his offense.  We’re trying to put him in areas where he has confidence. That puts more pressure on their defense.  That is good for us because it spreads the offense.” 

Also Thomas, who seemed to pout some when Gibson started Monday against Orlando, came out lively, though perhaps shooting  a bit too much as he attempted a team high 16 shots, making six. But he was seven of nine on free throws. And he finished several nice lobs from Miller after the Bulls opened the game missing 16 of their first 18 shots, but pulling into the lead by halftime.

“Tyrus is Tyrus,” pondered Miller. “It’s fun. The way they were playing defense, you could get the lob to Tyrus or Taj could get open jumpers on the other side. I was just being an old guy making decisions. Everyone (on our team) can catch the lobs. I can’t catch them, so I’ve got to throw them.”

The Bulls went with the unusual backcourt of Hunter starting with Rose still in a precautionary situation with his ankle given it was the final preseason game. Rose said he expects to continue practicing with the team Sunday and go hard and play at full speed in Thursday’s opener. Hinrich and Pargo also sat out to get the extra rest, and Hunter went almost 38 minutes with emergency oxygen tanks at the ready.

Salmons played some point, though in the halfcourt Miller was most adept moving the ball from the top of the key, like he did in the Kings wonderful offense in the early 2000’s.

If there was a bit of a struggle it was for Luol Deng, who had eight points on three of 11 shooting and finished the preseason averaging 10.8 points on 38 percent shooting in 27.3 minutes per game. Though the latter figure might be most crucial as Deng played in all eight games after returning from a stress fracture.

“We do (need more production from Deng),” Del Negro said. “Lu knows that. But we also need a balance. Luol needs to be more consistent and he knows that. We need him to play at a high level. We still have other guys who have versatility, but you are going to need to have your top players play at a high level. That’s the way it is in this league.”

“My rhythm is coming back,” said Deng. “It’s not fully there. I was out for a long time. I  couldn’t do much. It’s starting to feel better. From the first preseason game to now my cutting, playing defense. I feel a lot better and more comfortable doing that. I was able to practice every practice, go two a days. I’m healthy now. I really have to use my versatility, focus on defense and rebounding and scoring. But it’s not going to be one of those things where I have to go out and have to be scoring 20 something points. The most important is going out there and chipping in and doing all parts of the game.
“The one thing I’ve got to get is around the rim,” Deng added. “I wasn’t able to jump. That’s the last thing I did, jump. I started just before training camp. I’ve just got to get my rhythm driving and jumping and finishing around the rim.”

Ready or not.

What do you think? Leave a comment below: