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Bulls lose preseason opener in shaky start
by Sam Smith
Posted on Oct 5
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The score doesn’t much matter in the preseason, though coach Tom Thibodeau said after the Bulls lost 92-83 Tuesday in Milwaukee that you always want to win.
But the exhibition season really is about development, especially with so many new players like the Bulls have.
On the whole, I didn’t think it was a very good first effort for the Bulls, but I’ll start with the positives.
Luol Deng was very good, probably as good as he can play overall in getting 16 points on six of 10 shooting and one of three on threes (one spun in and out) in 25 minutes. He was the most active on defense with four steals, drew a couple of charges and got out in the lanes to run. It was clear that the offense under Thibodeau puts him back in the game again with cutting and movement.
“The way we’re playing I think really fits us,” said Deng. “I’ve been working on the three all summer, shooting a lot in practice and shooting it well. I want to add it to my game. A lot of times I come in closer, so I want to do a better job of staying out there.”
Kyle Korver was a pleasant return to a Ben Gordon type threat from the perimeter and ran off screens like Reggie Miller and Ray Allen. In fact, several of the plays Thibodeau ran for Korver were the same plays the Celtics always ran to free Allen.
“I don’t think I’ve had that many plays run for me in a long time,” said Korver, who led the Bulls with 22 points on seven of 12 shooting and made all seven free throws. “I was loving it. I don’t want to be a spot up guy. I want to keep moving and run around and wear my guy out and that’s what happened.
“Coach put in some plays (during the game) we hadn’t even run before,” said Korver. “And they were great plays. He’s got a never ending book of plays.”
Yes, no question Thibodeau is into it and intense.
He was up pacing all game, cajoling and demanding. I asked one of the players if he thought Thibodeau would wear out if he’s at that level now.
“Not this guy,” he said.
And Thibodeau did run a terrific play coming out of a timeout with 18 seconds left and the game decided. Teaching moment, they call it. He got Korver popping out off a down screen and Omer Asik going backdoor baseline for a dunk and Asik was fouled. Good stuff.
Of course, Asik, a poor free throw shooter, missed both as not counting Korver the Bulls were 11 of 22 on free throws.
If it were a real game I assume Asik would not be playing at that time. In any game, I’m not sure when Asik would be playing. Not necessarily because he cannot because he moves well and can catch the ball. He had a terrific follow dunk off a James Johnson miss late and followed that with an offensive rebound on the next possession. But he got two quick fouls and is going to have trouble staying out of foul trouble, at least early.
But Thibodeau said even in practice he tends to start slow. Better not in the NBA.
This was against rookie Larry Sanders and not Andrew Bogut, who didn’t play along with John Salmons and Corey Maggette. Carlos Boozer, of course, didn’t play for the Bulls as he had his surgery Tuesday and Ronnie Brewer remained out with his troublesome hamstring issues.
Milwaukee rookie Sanders looked good in making quick moves and with his length giving Joakim Noah trouble early. The Bulls are going to try going inside/out as that’s Thibodeau’s philosophy, and they went to Noah early. But Noah was finding himself thwarted. He ended with 10 points on four of 10 shooting with six rebounds in 27 minutes, but most of his baskets came after halftime on tip follows after Derrick Rose drives. He did have one really nice drop step move we hadn’t seen before and was fouled. Noah also had a terrific back door pass to Deng for a two handed dunk.
Though Thibodeau wants to go inside, it’s difficult to see how that’s going to be possible without Boozer.
Rose also played well, getting 13 points on five of 10 shooting and four rebounds in 23 minutes. But it was interesting to see how the defense is changing against him. Off the pick and roll, the defenders aren’t going under anymore, and the big man is stringing it out and staying with him until he gives up the ball.
That should leave a Bulls big man position for open shots off the elbow. But without Boozer, that’s not a likely option.
“When Carlos gets back in there, the fours are going to have those open shots at the elbow,” noted Rose.
Taj Gibson has been working on that, but he didn’t shoot well and then got hit in the back and went out after playing about 18 minutes.
“It was my lower back,” said Gibson. “I got hit early when I went for a rebound. It was sore to move and run and he (coach) sat me down. I don’t want to be the next power forward to go down.”
Thibodeau looked at some combinations, and it seems obvious he’ll keep Brian Scalabrine, who got 21 minutes and made a couple of shots. If you don’t have to use him too much he should be fine. He was the only one among the free agents to play, though I’d have liked to have seen Kyle Weaver with the two guard issues.
Brewer didn’t suit up and Keith Bogans doesn’t make much impact and was getting beaten off the dribble by Chris Douglas-Roberts.
It makes you wonder what if Salmons or Maggette were playing. And if they were could Korver be out there at shooting guard? Now, Korver looks like the best option given the Bulls will need more scoring on the floor.
It seemed like C.J. Watson had difficulty running the offense and playing point guard. He did have six assists in 25 minutes, but also four turnovers and six fouls while shooting two of nine. His ballhandling was shaky.
James Johnson had his moments, making a nice spin move for a score. But he seemed a bit quick to shoot at times and kept getting picked off on defense. He got beat baseline late with Thibodeau staring him down as well as the lack of help and then lost Mbah a Moute, who hit a wide open winner with a minute left.
Which most concerned Thibodeau for now. He’s a defensive coach, so that’s his priority. But the way things went on offense, the Bulls without Boozer are going to have to be defensive stoppers until late and then see if Derrick can beat them.
They were squashed on the boards Tuesday 42-27 and only in the game by forcing 25 turnovers, at least a half dozen on charges taken.
“Defensively, we’ve got a lot to clean up,” said Thibodeau. “We allowed the ball to go anywhere. The rebounding, dribble penetration led to second shots. We’ve got to work better to keep the ball out of the paint, challenge shots, finish on defense. We created some turnovers, which was good. Ball pressure caused problems, but when we didn’t we allowed the ball to go anywhere they wanted.
“Luol was active, very sharp running the floor, challenging shots on defense, helping. I was pleased with his effort,” said Thibodeau. “Korver executed coming off screens. He’s got to keep working on his defense and if he can keep the ball in front of him he’s going to get more minutes.
“The (defensive) help was not there,” said Thibodeau of the team. “We allowed the ball to get to the rim and when you are not there you allow a high percentage (Milwaukee shot 50.8 percent). We have to play 24 seconds of defense. We gave up several baskets at the end of the shot clock. It starts with our defense and we cannot be pleased with our defense and rebounding. That’s two areas we have to shore up. We relied heavily on jump shots. Offensively, we can do better.”
And so it begins.