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Bulls open preseason by beating Pacers again

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Dec 16

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Welcome back, NBA. I missed you. Oh, to read a box score again. That was sweet. The NBA returned Friday with four exhibition games, including the Bulls’ 95-86 victory over the Indiana Pacers in Indianapolis.

It wasn’t a great effort by the Bulls, who fell behind quickly and rallied thanks to a fairly awful Pacers’ bench. The Pacers are a pick of many to make a big jump this season, though they may just be halfway there with a better starting unit and little in reserve. Though big free agent acquisition David West didn’t play. Similarly, Richard Hamilton didn’t play for the Bulls, though they missed him much less with a strong reserve game that was the story of the night for the Bulls.

Here’s a look at how the first exhibition game went Friday:

– The Bulls’ reserves, arguably the best bench in the league and presumably an edge with more games per month, was strong, especially Taj Gibson and C.J. Watson. Rookie Jimmy Butler was impressive in his pro debut.

– Butler made all three of his shot attempts, though the first clearly wasn’t planned, a straight on bank attempt that banked in. Most impressive was the way he seemed to lack jitters, played confidently and fought over screens. He guarded twos and threes and never backed off when on high scorer Danny Granger, who still is in the running for worst shot selection in the league. Drive the ball!

– The Butler draft pick appears to be another terrific value selection low in the draft like the Taj Gibson pick. It’s putting the Bulls up there with top drafting teams, like the Spurs and Jazz. A big shout out to Bulls collegiate scouting director Matt Lloyd since with the new labor agreement low priced collegiate talent may be more important in the future.

– Derrick Rose on rookie Butler: “Jimmy Butler is a great addition to our team. He plays with a lot of confidence, quiet confidence. He plays smart, especially for a rookie and he can defend.” You can tell already Butler is going to be a huge fan favorite back in Chicago, the blue collar confident worker the city likes to embrace. Butler picked up his first floor burn already with a dive for a loose ball that gained the Bulls a possession. He also had a nice pull up jumper on a drive and a catch and shoot on a pass from Rose. Rose also took a charge on a two-on-one fast break, which we perhaps would rather not see until the games actually count.

– Carlos Boozer on the game: “They got up big. We fought back and did a good job of closing the game out. That’s the positive thing. The good thing is we were able to get the win. But watch the tape and get better on the things we didn’t do so well. I was proud of how we fought back, and very proud of our second group. The whole bench came in and got us back in the game. The first quarter was (defense) horrible. We gave up way too many points. The rest of the game was much better.” Boozer did finally get deep post position and score on an early third quarter move. That’s why I wonder about the lost weight as he needs to get deeper and perhaps he won’t be able to looking like he weighs about the same as Deng.

– Ronnie Brewer started, but made his case, to me, for playing off the bench. Hamilton has to be the starter. Brewer just isn’t enough of an offensive threat and fits better with his energy coming into the game, enhancing that second unit. Brewer tried to shoot from distance early, but his three attempt bounced over the backboard. He didn’t attempt another, which isn’t enough confidence to start at shooting guard. “I love our depth,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau.

– Watson shot the ball well and made his trio of three point attempts. But it was more than the ball going in. He was much more hesitant last season, playing more like the kid on the playground who was just grateful to be in the game and didn’t want to offend anyone. This time Watson wasn’t afraid to shoot, though he’s still not an actual point guard. He got a lot of time with Derrick Rose out with fouls two minutes into the game.

– It was a disappointing debut for Boozer. The Bulls, as Rose said at media day they would, concentrated immediately on throwing the ball into Boozer. But they got almost nothing out of it, falling behind by double digits quickly. Boozer was three of 10 in 22 minutes, hitting some jumpers late, but losing the ball as the Bulls had a rough 24 turnovers. I’m still not sure if he’s better off as thin as he is now. Boozer allowed the guards to beat him on the high screen rolls and after Darren Collison did so in the third quarter coach Tom Thibodeau immediately signaled Taj Gibson to into the game. Though Boozer clearly was in the weight room, my suspicion is he hadn’t played much basketball and should get better.

– Broadcaster Stacey King said he picked up Roy Hibbert yelling that Joakim Noah couldn’t guard him and calling for the ball. The next possession against Noah, Hibbert almost missed the rim on a wild hook. I don’t think the Pacers are quite ready yet. Noah also got into it a little bit with Tyler Hansbrough, which, to me, suggested, in part, last season’s playoff series, but also the Bulls will have that target on their backs and better be ready.

– Kyle Korver hit two of three shots and had a pair of assists when his man got help when he came off the screens. Still, Korver gives up shots when he cannot get off that quick catch and shoot. I’d like to see him pump and allow a fly by and step in for more shots. He’s the best shooter on the team by far and needs more attempts. The Pacers went at him, as teams generally do, but he holds up well enough.

– Tyler Hansbrough doesn’t fit the NBA talent profile, but he gets things done and gave Boozer trouble again. If West is recovered from his knee injury, they are going to give the Pacers a nice power forward pair. By the way, I have no doubt Hansbrough suffered a concussion from a Kurt Thomas elbow in Game 1 in last season’s playoffs, though he continued playing. I was right by him when he got hit and he clearly was out. With new NBA concussion rules this year to follow football and hockey, Hansbrough wouldn’t have been playing after that hit.

– The Pacers were an astounding two of 23 in the second quarter with a series of quick, long jump shots. Butler came in and had the biggest plus/minus for the game along with Gibson, though Rose with the early foul trouble played more in the second quarter when Butler came in.

– If Paul George gets more aggressive he’d going to be an offensive version of Scottie Pippen.

– After trailing by 13, the Bulls took a 52-47 lead at halftime, led by one after three and after taking a nine point lead midway through the fourth quarter both teams went back to their starting units, unusual for preseason, and the Bulls maintained their edge with Boozer making a couple of nice high post passes for scores.

– Luol Deng is who we thought he was…five years ago. When the chance came up to trade for Pau Gasol, though there were other factors, it didn’t seem to make much sense to give up Deng as both averaged about 18. Deng fell off badly after that, but he now plays with a swagger and confidence which we really never have seen. He’s a man out there and leader without that much talking. He takes the ball to the basket hard with sharp moves, defends and looks in better shape than I can recall, though it could also be the hair. He had 16 points in 30 minutes and you can see already Thibodeau isn’t taking him out much. The Bulls played some effective small ball late with Deng at power forward and with Boozer and Gibson at center and forward. Hibbert also is who we thought he was.

– Larry Bird’s done a nice job bringing the Pacers back to respectability. He’s privately been a huge advocate for years for shooting guard Lance Stephenson, though it’s still hard to see. The Bulls had a 41-12 bench edge.

– Speaking of a pair at four, Taj Gibson looked strong. He started slowly last season with tragic family issues that left him stunned and off balance. But he looked like he was coming into this season impressively, both challenging shots and making quicker moves to the basket with both hands and nice lefty layin. It’s a prime reason why the Bulls bench is so good with starting level players like Gibson and, I presume, eventually Brewer.

– Lots of free throws shot, 66, as Rose was 10 of 10. Finally getting the calls, though it took being MVP. Rose didn’t shoot well, and even gave a fist pump when he finally got his first field goal after halftime.

– I thought Noah was back to being more aggressive on the boards and determined to be an offensive threat again with nine shots. Didn’t see much of that hook or Rose in the post.

– Thibodeau even did an offense/defense switch with Boozer and Butler with a minute left. Like he said, the 25th will be here fast. Next and last preseason game is Tuesday against the Pacers in the United Center, and then it’s off to L.A. and the team formerly known as the great Lakers.

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