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Bulls buck the preseason odds and remain undefeated
by Sam Smith
Posted on Oct 22
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OK, the Bulls are ready. Anyone else?
Still another week until the regular season begins and two more exhibition games? Geez.
The Bulls Monday made quick and painless work of the Milwaukee Bucks, leading by 16 points less than six minutes into the game, by 23 at halftime and by fewer than 10 points for all of 5.2 seconds late, only in the first quarter.
“We came out on fire, started off well and kept it going,” said Derrick Rose, who had 24 points in about 27 minutes. “We’re just trying to push ourselves.”
Probably enough for now as the Bulls are making it look a bit too easy with the most dominating play around the league in the preseason in going to 6-0 with a 105-84 win over Milwaukee. The Bulls close the pretend games Wednesday in Wichita, Kan. against the Oklahoma City Thunder and at the United Center Friday against the Denver Nuggets with the preseason championship well within reach.
The only rings, however, the Bulls would be collecting would be on their doorbells to get ready for practice before the Oct. 29 opener in Miami.
But as coach Tom Thibodeau has decided, winning is better than losing, and the Bulls can at least claim good habits.
Carlos Boozer shot the ball well for 16 points and 10 rebounds, and even opened the game driving to the basket and rebounding his own misses twice to score. Hold him back!
Luol Deng added 15 points and Taj Gibson starting at center had 10 points in yet another strong early fall outing. Marquis Teague off the bench had his best preseason effort with a dozen points, 10 in the first half.
“They decided to go with a smaller quicker line up and we knew we could take advantage of them down low with Taj and Carlos,” observed Mike Dunleavy, who started again for the taking-it-slow Jimmy Butler. “We were able to control the paint and the boards.”
Butler remained out with a sore knee. Joakim Noah also was out with a groin injury and Kirk Hinrich with his concussion sustained Monday against Indiana. None of those injuries are considered serious and all are expected to play in the opener next week.
The winless Bucks were without starters O.J. Majo and Ersan Ilyasova, but it was no contest as the Bulls did the bullying from the start.
“Nothing went right,” agreed Bucks coach Larry Drew. “We learned a valuable lesson on how we are playing. This Bulls team is a veteran team. Our guys can learn from pace, from speed, from an aggression stand point. I think physically they manhandled us. We have to take something away from this. We have to play with much more of a physicality. This is a physical game when you play against a team that plays that style and you don’t.”
It was an uneven school yard fight from the beginning as first Rose penetrated and found shooters, and then the Bulls took turns going to Boozer and Gibson in the post with each turning inside for short bank shots and drop step and spin moves. It was a 13-2 start that went to 20-4 as they began to warm up the bus for the Bucks departure.
The Bucks were missing some starters. But they’re a team with 11 new players, many of whom appeared to be checking the backs to teammates’ uniforms to find out their names. It was unclear if anyone knew or liked one another as they rarely, if ever, passed to one another with no one with more than two assists.
The Bulls had 23 assists with Dunleavy leading with five in a nice all around game with also 12 points and seven rebounds. The new swingman who’s been starting lately with Butler out and adjusting to guard and forward positions made a three playing off Rose and showed his 6-10 size as an edge outrebounding smaller guards and a good feel moving the ball.
A lot was working for the Bulls as Rose and rookie Tony Snell added a pair of threes each and Rose continued his magnificent preseason play with his long distance shooting touch, speed to the basket and penchant for contact that got him another 11 free throws.
Once seemingly ignored when taking contact, Rose now has attempted 49 free throws in preseason, 34 in the last three games.
In those last three games since sitting out a game in Brazil, Rose has scored 22 points in 22 minutes against Detroit, 32 points in just over 31 minutes against Indiana and those 24 in just over 27 minutes Monday. Central Division beware!
“I think he has a great balance to his game right now,” said Thibodeau. “If you back up on him, he doesn’t hesitate to pull up. If you come up on him, he will go (to the rim). He is pushing the ball and attacking right from the start. He is pushing himself, which is what I like to see. You cannot underestimate how hard he is practicing right now. He is practicing at a very high level. As I’ve said before, when you practice hard, you play hard.”
And it’s hard to dispute Rose’s level of play.
Rose had eight points in the first quarter with a three pointer and three assists while Gibson pounded inside to match Rose with eight points and pretty much made those eights enough to overwhelm the Bucks.
“I have been having a good training camp, great practices,” said Gibson, who has been getting constant praise from Thibodeau, so much so you sometimes think he’s Luol Deng. “I have worked very hard on my game all summer, on my shot and on my defense. I’m listening to the coaches and doing what I’m told. Everybody on this team is on edge. We are practicing hard and it shows on the court.”
The Bulls moved the ball smartly into several open jumpers to lead 29-19 after one quarter. Then Teague had a productive second quarter and Rose kept barreling into the basket, getting five more free throws, and driving and pitching to Dunleavy for a three as the Bulls led 62-39 at halftime.
Teague showed the sort of scoring prowess he exhibited in summer league, though Thibodeau scolded him about letting down in the second half. Forty-eight minute games, as we know, in ThibsWorld. Erik Murphy struggled with his shot, but played hard, and free agent big man Dexter Pittman banged around as he does in the last six minutes with four fouls and three rebounds. Nazr Mohammed fouled out in 15 minutes, though he had eight rebounds. Size wasn’t an issue as Milwaukee plays small. But the question will remain how the Bulls can handle the bigger, half court teams if Noah is in and out.
After halftime, Dunleavy and Gibson took turns finding one another, Gibson with a powerful slam taking a behind the back pass from Dunleavy on the break. The Bulls pushed it to 84-54 on a Rose three with just under four minutes left in the third quarter and Rose was done for the evening about a minute later.
Predictably, Rose wasn’t satisfied in pointing to his four turnovers.
“I’ve got to make better decisions,” said Rose.
Rose’s decision last season to sit out keeps looking better and better as it’s hard to imagine Rose could be playing at this sort of explosive level had he put in time last season not at full strength. Now, there are reports athletic rookie Nerlens Noel could sit out the season after ACL surgery. There really has never been anyone in sports who’s had the sort of serious knee injury Rose had who’s ever come back with this level of explosive play.
Of course, Rose has yet to play back to back games or four in five nights. And he hasn’t played in the regular season against top teams playing their best players. So there will be many tests ahead. Though his physical ability now, and especially his lack of restraint and hesitation is remarkable considering the severity of the injury.
There’s even more with Rose. Where often if he wasn’t making a driving play, he’d stand on the perimeter and watch, he’s more engaged now. He’s cutting through to draw the defense more and playing off the ball at times as a shooter since the Bulls have multiple players who can pass the ball. Rose also is defending better and still aware of the situation, like at the end of the Pacers’ game last Friday in a desperate situation it was Rose going high above everyone to grab a vital rebound in the last minute.
He likely won’t receive the defensive recognition of some of his teammates given the Bulls are such a good defensive team. But Rose is doing better getting over screens and staying with his man, which wasn’t exactly vital against the Bucks.
It should be more so Wednesday in a featured national game against the Thunder. Kevin Durant has been dynamic in the preseason, averaging 22.2 points (slightly more than Rose) in 27 minutes for an Oklahoma City team playing without the injured Russell Westbrook. It promises to be a highlight of the preseason featuring perhaps the two top young scorers in the game.
Both of whom — along with the rest of us — seem ready for the games that count.