Bulls finish preseason in style behind Deng


Oct 23

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A team looks good when it wins by 28 points, never trails and leads by double figures for the final 39 minutes, which the Bulls did Friday in closing the preseason at 4-4 with a 102-74 demolition of the Indiana Pacers.

“I know we’re going to be a good team,” said Derrick Rose, who had 14 points and six assists to support Luol Deng’s stunning 29 points in 30 minutes with eight rebounds and 12 of 12 from the free throw line. “Guys are always working out together, helping each other, hanging out. It’s almost like a college team and that’s great. We’re going to each other’s houses, each other’s events.

“The way we’re playing right now is unselfish. The ball is moving, guys are cheering for other guys. It’s great,” said Rose. “There’s great energy every time you come to practice.”

So, yes, the unsteady exhibition season concludes optimistically with Carlos Boozer, out another month with a broken hand, watching and helping out on the TV broadcast throughout the second half and Joakim Noah recovering, this time on the bench, from several days of the flu.

So the Bulls started rookie Omer Asik again and he continued his solid play with six points and 10 rebounds, seven offensive, in 25 minutes, as he’s already showing he could be a capable backup for Noah. Kurt Thomas, who should be eased through the season more given his age, added seven rebounds in another good bench effort as the Bulls got back on the boards for a 50-37 rebounding edge. Even the slumping Taj Gibson seemed livelier with 11 points and some enthusiastic dunks.

“I think we have good depth,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “Through injury, illness, guys have had the opportunity to step up and they’ve done a good job. We have a lot of guys who have started in this league. We feel good about our bench. We feel good about all the guys on the roster. (Omer) has played more than he otherwise would have. He’s very effective around the basket.  He’s a very good screener, a multiple effort guy. He’s not afraid at all to mix it up, He pursues the ball, has great hands, has done a very good job.”

The best job was done once again by Deng, who closed the preseason shooting 50.6 percent and 51.7 percent on threes, 15 of 29 after three of five Friday, easily led the team in going to the free throw line and with Boozer out has provided a consistent scoring support for Rose.

Rose admits he knows he has to go into the season without Boozer concentrating more on scoring.

“That’s another thing that makes this team great,” said Rose. The guys on this team know that and everyone (is supportive).”

As an aside, I often ask veteran NBA guys about Rose and whether they’d ever seen a guard who plays like that, particularly a point guard. Though the Pacers weren’t much to see with Danny Granger hurt and Mike Dunleavy out early in foul trouble, it was a treat to see Larry Bird at the game. I’ve known Bird for almost 30 years and of everyone I’ve encountered in sports, he’s changed the least from the time he started, truly still a guy who prefers the background and a beer with buddies, if not my alliteration.

I asked Bird about Rose as a point guard and he brought up a name I hadn’t thought about, James Silas, a spindly quick guard from the old ABA who was the first Spur ever to have his number retired. It was difficult to see those games then, but Silas put up some big numbers despite being overshadowed on his own team by George Gervin in what was some of the best, rarely seen basketball.

Yes, I digress, but Silas was one tough guard, often a closer for the team even with Gervin there.

I admit it: I loved the ABA.

The old Pacers of the ABA, who were awfully good, would have had a much better time of it Friday than the new version, which fell 15 behind in the first quarter as Deng exploded out with 15 points and 10 of 10 from the line in the first quarter, shooting pull ups, attacking, more reminiscent of the Deng of a few years ago who was being talked about as an All Star.

No one is making any such predictions yet, but his coach is a big fan, and without Boozer the Bulls will need everything he can give for at least the first month.

“I always thought as an opposing coach, he was a guy that you worried about because he was capable of having a big game,” said Thibodeau.  “If you weren’t paying attention to him we always felt he was capable of having a big night. All the things he does he keeps constant pressure on your defense.

“He’s very clever away from the ball,” said Thibodeau. “If you lose vision of him he knows how to cut behind the defense. He knows how to space the floor. In transition, he’s very good  at finding open areas and attacking the basket. He got 12 free throws tonight, so slashing to the basket and now when you add that three point shot it puts even more pressure on the defense. Now they come flying at him he’s making good decisions and going to the rim and getting contact and getting fouled.

“With the personnel we have we’re asking him to do a lot of things,” said Thibodeau. “We’re posting him up more. With Carlos out we have to find more ways to get the ball into the paint. Posting him some, putting him in some pick and roll, some drives, is giving him a chance to attack and pull the defense in, which is opening the three point line for us.”

The Bulls again shot well from the three, seven of 17 and finished the preseason a respectable 36.7 percent, though Rose isn’t quite there yet at 24 percent.

Adding to that team improvement was James Johnson, who had another good game with 11 points after the win in Toronto Wednesday, and he now has shot nine for 10 the last two games and is averaging 12.5 points in about 15 minutes the last two games. He’s making a case for a qualifying offer with just a few days left before teams can make those offers to second year players, and he remains playful as he did his post game interviews in an Oscar the Grouch hat with ear flaps.

“I’m comfortable out there, in my rhythm and it’s easy to play with the guys are out there,” said Johnson. “I’m trying to show the coach I’m dedicated and get his trust for me. I didn’t want to have one good game in Toronto, so it was important for me to come out and have a good game. I’m more comfortable. They want me to shoot. I want to take the shots now and I’m comfortable and want to come out and use my speed.”

Johnson did in getting to the basket and showing a much improved, softer shot. He credited returning assistant Ron Adams for helping him with his shot as Deng, ironically, also singled out Adams, whom he said helped him when Adams was on Scott Skiles’ staff.

“I just felt great this summer,” said Deng. “Last summer was hard for me to sit with the injury and wait three days before season before playing live. I’ve come into the preseason in shape and kept playing and it helped my confidence. Being healthy this summer really helped me a lot.

“It was Scott (who moved me off the three point line), but it was when I had my wrist surgery and after that I struggled with the strength of my wrist. Skiles did say to move in, but even Ron Adams he worked on my shot then,” said Deng. “That’s how my mid range started. Ron is always correcting my shot and that helps. Griff (assistant Adrian Griffin) has been great and we work together all the time. He played my position. But I think Ron is one of the best shooting coaches. He’s really able to tell me what I’m doing wrong and that helps.”

It seems to have worked so far for Deng, averaging 16 points in 28 minutes in the preseason.

Ronnie Brewer also looked good, having his best outing of the preseason with six points and five rebounds and Kyle Korver was back and though just three of 10, his shot looked good and he added five assists.

The offense is much crisper with more movement, which Deng says has made all the difference in his ability to get to the free throw line more. The Bulls had 23 assists on 33 field goals Friday. They did still have 20 turnovers, but they held the Pacers to 35 percent shooting with continued emphasis on Thibodeau’s defensive keys, which has been closing out, help side defense and rebounding.

Still, like all coaches, Thibodeau sees plenty of room for improvement. And by all accounts the players continue to buy in and believe he can make them better.

Offensively, we are doing a very good job sharing the ball,” said Thibodeau.  “We have been doing that since camp started.  I would like to see our turnovers down and get into the paint a little more.  Defensively, it’s been in spurts.  That we have to correct. There are different aspects we have not done well: Containment of the ball, pick and roll defense, defensive transition has been up and down but for the most part good. I think we’re making the effort to get back.  Challenging the shot has been a sometime thing.  We have to make it an all the time thing.  Rebounding has been up and down as well.  Right now we are a small team.  We have to gang rebound.  If we do gang rebound we can be good.  That will put us in the open court for some easy baskets.”

So now it begins, at least next Wednesday in Oklahoma City, one of the toughest places to play as the Lakers found out last season in the playoffs. Noah will be back and it seems likely Keith Bogans will be at shooting guard to start. The Bulls will watch the waiver wire and perhaps pick someone up to open the season, maybe Portland backup point guard Patty Mills.

But the next target is none other than possible MVP Kevin Durant.

“It’s a great way to start the season,” said Deng.  “Not just Kevin Durant, but Oklahoma City.  They’re looking forward to having another great year and we’re going to be tested right out the gate.  And, that’s good for us.”

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