Bulls continue perfect preseason start


Oct 8

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Derrick Rose still is healthy.

But the Bulls Monday in running away from the Memphis Grizzlies 106-87 for a second consecutive preseason victory are feeling good and pretty much are making this Rose watch theme moot.

“The first half I was kind of jittery,” said Rose, who played an uneventful 23 minutes with once again 13 points and four of five first half missed free throws for the jittery part. “The second half I came out aggressive, getting to the hole, getting the butterflies out. I played comfortable. Just trying to shake the rust off, just trying to come together as a team and get some chemistry.”

It’s not exactly necessary this soon in preseason. But for the most part, the Bulls are looking close to regular season form even playing without Joakim Noah, who remained out with a minor groin strain.

The story of the preseason, if not the entire season, was the return of Rose from serious knee surgery almost 18 months ago. But Rose is quickly making it a non-story the way he’s accelerating down court and going to the basket without hesitation.

“We’re seeing the explosion to the basket, the bursts of speed, attacking,” agreed Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “I think he’s finding his rhythm.”

And everyone else is dancing.

It’s a relief to the Bulls, if not the entire NBA. And that was apparent when Rose drove hard to the basket on a break in the first half and burly Zach Randolph was closing to cut him off. Randolph got to Rose to prevent the basket, but Randolph grabbed Rose to make sure Rose didn’t go down too hard. No one wants to see Rose go away again. But there seems little evidence that he’s any more at risk than anyone else. And Rose continued to play confidently.

He has not shot the ball much from the perimeter, which perhaps has been the biggest weakness for the Bulls. Especially with Rose and Jimmy Butler in the backcourt, the Bulls have shown little ability to space the court with jump shooting.

Rose finally attempted his first three after halftime and made it, though the bulk of his scoring in the two games has come on layups and dunks and at the free throw line.

It seemed obvious after the Grizzlies playing without Marc Gasol and Tony Allen led 45-44 at halftime that Thibodeau wanted the Bulls to work more on their shooting.

After making just two shots beyond 15 feet in the first half, which were threes by Luol Deng and Mike Dunleavy, the Bulls attempted three shots of at least 20 feet in the first two minutes of the second half and Rose made a three.

“Just trying to play smooth and do all the right things,” said Rose.

It was hardly a smooth game with 72 free throws attempted, 43 by the Bulls at the St. Louis neutral site, as the officials worked on their own preseason, which obviously included their points of emphasis with numerous off the ball offensive foul calls.

With Rose, to the Bulls’ relief, making his return a non story so quickly, the attention can, as it should, transition to the team. Of course, without Noah it isn’t the same team, though Nazr Mohammed starting at center for the second straight game was solid in his role with six rebounds in 15 minutes and a game high three blocks.

Thibodeau limited Mohammed’s time and used Taj Gibson and Carlos Boozer together more. And Boozer had a strong scoring effort with team high 16 points on seven of 12 shooting, mostly on mid range jumpers. He will take more time to adjust as the Bulls with Rose back are scoring more in transition.

Whereas the Bulls struggled for fast break points last season with their mostly walk-it-up game, they had 16 more Monday after 20 Saturday in Indianapolis. Memphis had just two fast break points.

The Bulls’ defense once again seemed ahead of the offense as Butler helped break the game open for the Bulls after halftime with a pair of steals for fast break scores. Rose left for the game with 4:17 remaining in the third and the Bulls leading 66-58. Kirk Hinrich with 15 points along with Gibson then scored six points the rest of the quarter as the Bulls closed the third leading 81-67 and both teams used reserves and free agents the rest of the way.

Playing Memphis, where he went to college, Rose was introduced as “from Memphis,” and last among the starters after second in Indianapolis Saturday in perhaps a psychological ploy by the Pacers to suggest he wasn’t the same Rose.

Rose scored the Bulls first basket Monday on a drive and put back of his own miss, which he also did Saturday, though the Bulls fell behind early losing shooters with some over reacting help defense.

The Grizzlies led 28-20 after one quarter as they outplayed the Bulls on the perimeter. Rose played a long stretch in the second quarter with a group that included the two rookies and two reserves. But it was Deng and Gibson working together for a give and go Gibson dunk, Deng driving and Gibson hitting the boards that got the Bulls within 45-44 at halftime before breaking open the game with a strong third quarter.

The Bulls also got a few good minutes from both Mike James and Dexter Pittman down the stretch and continued to pull away.

The Bulls face the Washington Wizards Saturday before the first preseason game in the United Center October 16 against Detroit.

Because of the return of Rose, it’s obviously been a compelling preseason for the Bulls. But something stands out even without Rose on the floor. You get a sporting event in the NBA preseason unlike in baseball and football. The NFL preseason seems almost a con job against the public. Baseball, though not as dishonest as the NFL as far as value for fans, mostly has players going through the motions and half speed at best. Not so in the NBA, though perhaps more with the Bulls since Thibodeau’s motto is mostly if they are keeping score he intends to win. Rose has echoed those sentiments, and the Bulls have played hard, if not always artistic, in both games. It is a credit to the NBA the way its players do respect the fans even in preseason.

Mohammed was on the floor chasing a loose ball. Butler was disrupting plays, helping, sometimes a bit too much early as Jerryd Bayless with a team high 15 points got open for several early jump shots. Gibson was fighting on the boards once again and added three offensive rebounds and a block and went to the free throw line for seven attempts, second most to Rose.

It’s clearly not regular season work as no starter played 27 minutes and Gibson the most with just under 28. But it’s been an impressive opening for the Bulls, certainly because no one seems much concerned about Rose anymore.

And since two preseason games and without your starting center means little, here’s a look at the first weekend of preseason.

Rose: He’s been great. Not so much in his play, which has mostly been without the advertised perimeter shooting, but he’s played fearlessly and really more reminiscent of the way he played two years ago than anyone truly expected.

Butler: He’s played as hard as maybe anyone ever has in preseason games. He doesn’t appear to know any other way. His defense is impressive when he gets up on an opponent, but he can be a bit undisciplined, like Noah, in over helping. His weak side help and rebounding has been amazing. But he has turned down way too many shots and isn’t spacing the floor as a shooting guard must.

Deng: He’s been the veteran, more easing into his minutes. He shot a little better and was a bit more aggressive Monday, but you can see he’s not pushing hard yet. He’s more like a baseball spring training player for now. But he looks fine and recovered from his issues of last season.

Boozer: After not getting much going against the Pacers, he got more shots Monday and found a nice range for his jumper. He’s underappreciated in the way he can create space for his shot and still is a veteran scorer. He’s not running all over the place to help on defense. So get over it. But he’s a valuable option on a team which needs to open the floor with shooting.

Mohammed: He’s shown he can hold the fort for 15 to 20 minutes, play good position defense and with some life still in his legs. He had a good preseason last year, but then came into the season slowly. He seems better prepared and more confident this season.

Hinrich: He’s run the team well, an overlooked quality the players most appreciate. He shot four of six Monday and two of three on threes and got to the line for six free throws Monday. The reserve role fits him well and gives the Bulls a very productive group when Rose leaves. It would be good to see Rose more off the ball playing with Hinrich so Rose can shoot.

Gibson: He’s probably been the best player in the first two games because he was so much better than he was last season. He’s shooting 14 for 21 and averaging nine rebounds in fewer than 30 minutes per game. He’s been aggressive and relentless on the offensive boards against bigger players. He’s been more controlled with less overreaction toward officials and shooting well. He’s been the surprise of October.

Mike Dunleavy: Though he’s just three of nine shooting, he really hasn’t gotten many plays yet. He had a nice tap back on a loose ball Monday, which is a specialty as he is sneaky in going over players with his size. The Bulls ran a few floppy actions to get him shots like they did with Kyle Korver and Richard Hamilton. But they have to do it more as his shooting will be vital. He’s been smart defensively guiding his man into help when beaten, a smart player.

Erik Murphy: Another of the surprises in camp. He had a post up move for a score Monday and hasn’t been afraid to take his shot. Though a second rounder, he’s seemed more comfortable than first round pick Tony Snell and able to make a contribution. He’s not fast, but he seems to understand how to play and not try to do too much. He also gathered a loose ball Monday and stepped back like Ray Allen in Game 6 and made a nice corner jumper. With somewhat less pressure.

Tony Snell: It’s seemed a struggle for him as he’s played a lot at shooting guard, which doesn’t seem his position. His shot has been balky, though he finally made a driving score late in the game for his first basket after seven misses. He’s got some feel and moves the ball, but hasn’t shown yet where he might make an impact.

Marquis Teague: The backup point guard and second year man has been a late entry in each of the games, not coming into until the last five or six minutes. He’s shot the ball reasonably well, though the games have mostly been decided by the time he’s played.

Mike James: After sitting out in Indianapolis, the veteran guard showed savvy with a jumper and a couple of strong defensive plays in the last five minutes. He looks ready to play any time and is the kind of player a coach won’t worry about bringing off the bench.

Dexter Pittman: The former Miami backup finally made an appearance as well, like James, with about five minutes left and handled himself reasonably well. He is slow, so he picked up three quick fouls. But he also got a put back score and took a pass from Snell for a layup as with his big body he’s a space eater. The Bulls will need to see him play more.

But after two games, overall the team has to like what it’s seen.

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