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Tuesday, October 08, 2013

CHICAGO BULLS NEWS: BullsEyes from 106-87 Romp over Memphis

Chicago Bulls Star Derrick Rose Back in Pre-Season Action

Two up, Two down...and another small step on the Chicago Bulls' journey towards their 2013-2014 NBA Title. Like Saturday night against the Pacers, Exhibition Game #2 was UGLY for most of the first half, but talent, depth, and hustle prevailed as the Bulls easily pulled away in the second half for a 106-87 pasting of the Memphis Grizzlies.

While both teams sat their All Star Centers in Joakim Noah and Marc Gasol, once again we got a really good feel for the Bulls' core we'll see all year. Lets cover the BullsEyes!

1. Derrick Rose looked even more comfortable and explosive. He is dripping confidence, and I'm blown away by his explosive first step to the basket. You can literally blink and miss him get from half court to the bucket. If you watched the game you saw him do this a few times. All the moves are there, yet he is missing easy finishes at the rim along with free throws. The finishes, the free throws...that will be there come opening night. The great news is this truly is the Derrick Rose we knew so well...and it was easy to forget how mesmerizing he can be. Another thing...he is really taunting the passing lanes on defense. He's perfected playing safety, with three come-from-nowhere steals to show for it. He ended up with 13 points in 23 minutes but he missed a few EASY shots he will not miss come regular season. You have to love what you're seeing from him.

Not buying it? Check out this play from Derrick "The Blur" Rose last night:

2. Taj Gibson is in beast mode early on. I'm not sure if it's due to the absence of Joakim that gives him more opportunity to dominate down low, but he looks like an entirely different player than last year. He's off to a terrific start, SO aggressive and sporting some new and improved post moves. To me it looks like he really worked hard this summer on refining his game and getting stronger. He tallied 15 points and 6 boards(3 offensive) in 28 minutes of the bench for his second excellent game. He also led the team playing 28 minutes.

3. The Booze Cruise found his groove by being much more fluid on offense, finding a rhythm and hitting a mix of typical Boozer gimmes plus some high difficult fade aways. A nice 16 points in 26 minutes on 7 of 12 shooting for Carlos.

4. The Bulls, as a team, REALLY need to work on their free throws(31 for 43). I'm going to leave it at that. Actually I won't. If you're going to get to the line 43 times(remarkable) and shoot 14 more than your opponent...reap the benefits and make more than 72% of them. I didn't like the way they shot it much of last season and into the playoffs and I still don't. Now I'll leave it at that.

5. Erik Murphy is really impressing. He did a bit of everything. I don't know what the other rookies look like in their first few pre-season games, but you'd be hard pressed to find many who look more comfortable in an NBA game than Erik Murphy. The box score really doesn't tell the story, which is he just plays his game without getting overwhelmed. He's playing like a vet...keeping loose balls alive, grabbing timely boards, tapping back missed free throws, nailing long jumpers, showing a post game, taking a charge...he honestly did it all. That kid will earn minutes this way. 22 minutes for both him and Tony Snell on the night. Snell didn't do much to distinguish himself, but he was part of the unit that took this game over and then put it away.

6. The bench, as a whole, looked great again and won the game...again. You get a feeling this will be a recurring theme. Captain Kirk Hinrich had 15 points in 18 minutes and all I ask for is that he stays healthy. Please, please, please. What a luxury to have him backing up D. Rose. That's a phenomenal backup point guard to lead your second unit(and a few rookies mind you)...and best of all, Kirk looks happy and comfortable in this important leadership role. Murphy, Gibson, Mike Dunleavy, Hinrich and Snell were the key players on the floor when the Bulls put it out of reach, all ranging from +12 to +17 in the +/- category. In the last 5 minutes even Dexter Pittman, Mike James and Marquis Teague got into action and they all made plays.

7. Speaking of Teague...he seems to be the odd man out in this rotation..or at least of the guys who have a shot at seeing the floor. Pittman and James, if they make the roster, will be in dress suits unless injuries strike, but it is Teague that seems to be the guy who could get minutes but wont...apparently behind Snell and Murphy. It makes sense when you think about it...he's simply the third point guard behind D. Rose and Hinrich and third point guards don't see the floor that often. Crazy that the Bulls are carrying a fourth point guard in Mike James when you can't even say they have a third center behind Mohammed. Teague has to be patient...his opportunity will arise when you know Rose and Hinrich are unlikely to play 82 games this year. Heck...the Bulls may be thrilled if they got 75 games out of Rose and 70 out of Hinrich. They have the depth to manage that.

8. For the second game in a row Jimmy Butler struggled to find his offense. It's not that he's missing shots...he's not taking shots. You can't focus on his's the way he's moving with and without the ball at the moment. He's thinking, not reacting, still finding his way as a starter and playing along side D. Rose. For that matter...I think the Bulls entire offense is still getting used to playing with Derrick. Don't discredit how difficult it is to adjust to a player of that speed. Any team would face the same challenge. My favorite comment after the game came from Mike Dunleavy who said, "I've played with Monta Ellis and he's pretty fast, but man, with Derrick, it's a whole different gear. The other night I was watching him in a game and he made a couple bursts, and I thought 'I don't remember him being that fast.' " Neither did we, Mike.

Back to the Bulls rusty offense, it also doesn't help that Noah isn't playing. Not only does it throw off the starting five chemistry, but Joakim has a knack for facilitating offense with his passing. Having Noah down low changes how the offense runs and how the defense responds. They will look a lot smoother when all five starters are together, but that doesn't dismiss the fact that Jimmy does have to look for his shot. In game one he was taking it to the hole to the tune of 12 free throw attempts. Last not as much...he ended with 9 points in 26 minutes on 3 of 7 from the floor. I will give him this...the Bull who I predicted to lead the team in steals and be one of the Steals leaders in the league had 3 more on the night. Him, Rose and Deng are going to cause havoc all year in the passing lanes.

9. Once again the Bulls won all the intangible categories. As already stated, they shot 14 more free throws and got to the line at will. They out-rebounded the Grizzlies 43-31, with five more offensive boards. They had two more steals, two less turnovers(much better job on turnovers this game with only 17), eight more points in the paint, five more blocks, and here is the whopper stat...they won the battle of fast break points 16-2. You're not going to lose a game when you can boast all of that...and this is what the Bulls do best. They out-clinic you in the areas that matter most.

10. Here's the best part...they really didn't look that good for much of the game! Actually the Bulls looked TERRIBLE during the first half, when my notes said "Defensive is sluggish...far less movement than the other night. Offense not finishing easy shots. Cant hit free throws. Jimmy not doing anything with ball.", etc. Why is this "the best part"? The theme you will see all season is this: THE BULLS CAN WIN UGLY and they'll do it often. Actually they'll be one of the few teams you see who not only win ugly, but will win ugly by 20 points! If you can win ugly, you can win most games. If you can play poorly and trounce a team, you're an awfully good team. I said it the other day...the allowance for an opponent's poor play is very low against the Bulls...for the Bulls will play poorly and still demolish you because they're that much better. Jordan's Bulls often did that. They'd look terribly lethargic the first half...and all it took was an 8 minute stretch in the third quarter to stretch a close game to a 20 point lead. Then after that they often sat out the fourth quarter. Just wait for your moment, seize it, then get on the bus.

This team is smart and patient...they will not be rattled by poor stretches or early deficits. They have too much confidence for that. The Bulls just have to keep winning in the lunch pail stats. They can beat most teams without shooting well. They can beat most teams while turning the ball over even(like in Indiana the other night). They'll win through their defense, out-hustling you, out-muscling you, and all in all out-hearting you. That's Tom Thibodeau's Bulls, that's this core. Style points count for nothing...W's count for everything. The Bulls are going to get a lot of them this year

Now on to Saturday in Rio De Janeiro where the Bulls will go 3-0 on the pre-season against the Washington Wizards.  Yes that's right..I said it.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

CHICAGO BULLS NEWS: BullsEyes From Bulls 82-76 Win Over Pacers

Lot of great things to take from last night's Bull's 82-76 victory over the Indiana Pacers in the first pre-season game...the first step on the road to a Bull's Title in 2013-2014. Of course it was sloppy, and for both teams, as you would expect in exhibition game #1. With neither team hitting 38% off their field goal attempts, and 38 turnovers between them...we certainly weren't going to mistake this for a late season game.

That said, you had two cut-throat teams playing defense as if it was game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Both of these teams seem to play full-throttle no matter what time of year...especially against each other. Two incredibly talented, young, tough-minded and defensive-oriented playoff-tested teams only 3 hours apart in geography and with their best basketball ahead of them. They're built and coached in similar fashion, they have great respect for one another, and it's really nice to see this rivalry brewing in the Midwest for years to come. Long after the manufactured, "purchased-at-the-store championship team" known as the Miami Heat have come and gone, the Bulls and Pacers will be warring in the Eastern Conference Finals for years to come. They were built to last.

Lets get to our BullsEyes on the night:

1. DERRICK ROSE IS BACK. Yes, he looked did pretty much everyone else out there. Yes, some of his decision making was off with his four turnovers in 20 minutes. He actually could have had a few more but managed to recover the ball a few times as it was slipping away. What was undeniable was this...DERRICK ROSE WAS HANDS DOWN THE FASTEST GUY ON THE COURT. He was the most explosive. So much for the "He will not look like the same player for a few years after the surgery" philosophy. He had a second and third gear that no one else was sporting, and a few times it led to coast to coast breaks where the ball never left his hands until it was in the hole for points. It was great to see. His shot wasn't there yet, his timing wasn't there yet, but you walked away saying "Only a matter of time". His confidence was SUPER high, as if he never suffered a serious injury at all. He was barreling his body into the middle, and into traffic and trees such as Roy Hibbert and David West, without hesitation...never once avoiding contact. Now you could take his reckless abandon negatively, worried that he will wear down too soon, but I took it as a GREAT thing. As Derrick said the other day...if his mom is on the court he is going to kill her. If he's only going to have one gear, I'll take the one we saw last night. Loved what I saw.
2.  As I predicted a few times in the Fan Poll Results posted yesterday, Taj Gibson is primed for a huge bounce back year after a disappointing prior season. As voted in the poll, he's my pick for the Bulll who will most exceed expectations. In a game where Carlos Boozer did very little to assert himself with just 2 points, Taj made up for that and then some with 18 points and 12 rebounds. Taj led the Bulls in minutes played at 31 and for good reason...he was everywhere. When on the floor, there were few plays on both sides of the court where you didn't see him involved. Whether he is playing in place of Boozer of Joakim Noah, this really should be Gibson's best year and the one which validates the big contract the Bulls gave him. He is a super-critical piece to this team's success.

3. Also mentioned in yesterday's Fan Poll Results, I expect the Bulls to be the best rebounding team in the NBA, and last nights 56-38 drubbing of the Pacers on the boards certainly didn't hurt my case. Every starter out there is a very good rebounder at their position. Then you bring guys like Kirk Hinrich, Mike Dunleavy, Gibson, Nazr Mohammed, Tony Snell and Erik Murphy off the bench...and all of them are solid rebounders as well. The Pacers led the NBA in defensive rebounds by a large margin last year...and the Bulls had 17 offensive rebounds last night. They just work harder than any other team from man 1 to man 12. You can say "Oh well it was just an exhibition game" but the main rotations for both teams played enough to get the full story. It's not like exhibition baseball or football games where it's more about end of bench tryouts. Both teams played their starters 20-30 minutes last night. You got a very good flavor for what you will see deep into the season. If any team had more of an incomplete story it was the Bulls without Joakim Noah.

4. Speaking of the rookies, they not only played(17 and 19 minutes), which has been something all of us are wondering about for the upcoming season, but Snell and Murphy played with confidence. Just assertiveness alone, you would not know they were playing their first NBA game. Their shots were certainly off(1 of 8 combined), but they were +9 in the +/- column, and they definitely contributed to this win. Murphy was rather opportunistic, giving the Bulls a couple extra possessions by getting his hands on the ball, and Snell made two very fundamental passes that led to easy baskets. If these are your end of bench players you could do a lot worse. By end of season they really could be paying dividends. I'm rather excited about both of them long term. They look like keepers.

5. Kirk Hinrich looked FRESH. He makes such a difference to me. Wth 6 points to go with 8 rebounds; the best moments of the Bulls offense came with Kirk at the point and D. Rose a two-guard free to roam. It is a totally different look for the Bulls, so less predictable, and what I perceive to be when the Bulls are most dangerous. Kirk will never have the physical gifts that Derrick does...but he really sees the court and controls the offense better than Derrick, When you put the two together, you really have a far more diverse offense and I think Tom Thibodeau and the rest of the team sees it. A healthy Kirk Hinrich is a major key to the season. I'm fine if you put him on ice all year...make sure he is there in May. When the Bulls need their best offensive unit on the court this year, it will be Noah, Deng, Butler/Dunleavy, Rose and Hinrich and it will be effective. In a last second moment when you need a shot to win it, Dunleavy will replace Noah. There are a LOT of pieces to mix and match here depending on the situation.

6. The Bench looks versatile. We've already spoken about four guys who contributed to that win in major ways between Gibson, Hinrich, Snell and consider that Nazr Mohammed and Mike Dunleavy did some very nice things out there as well. Nazr started in place of Joakim Noah and had the Bulls first five points. He was active with 6 rebounds(3 offensive) and 3 blocks on the night, and while I've been screaming for us to find "another center" to backup Joakim since June, maybe I'm guilty of not having enough faith in Nazr in either a backup or fill-in role. In limited opportunities last year, he really didn't look his age...and last night was no different. The Bulls eldest statesman played with some juice jn his legs. He's not going to be a dominant center, but he helps more than hurts in most cases. He's certainly capable of giving you a few double doubles this year when called on. In his first game as a Bull, Dunleavy couldn't find his shot(1 of 4 for four points), but you know that will come as he is one of the best shooters in the league. He plays rather fundamental, smart basketball and it was on display last night. A couple key rebounds and a couple phenomenal passes...he was second to only Taj Gibson in the +/- column at 11. The Bulls bench with Gibson, Hinrich, Dunleavy, Mohammed, Snell and Murphy will play fundamental, aggressive basketball all season.  You have a very good mix of former starters in this league, up and coming youth, and a talent in Taj Gibson who really could be starting.

7. Jimmy Butler has a gift for getting to the line.  A few months ago I gushed about Jimmy Butler as if he was the second coming of Scottie Pippen. One of the many reasons is how aggressive he is at taking the ball to the hole, and how referees are uncharacteristically giving a relatively unknown player(to this point) his due with foul calls. Jimmy didn't look for his shot last night from the outside...he only took four shots in 30 minutes. As I've said before...Jimmy doesn't force shots and at times he may be guilty of shying away from them. That will have to change. What he does do though is let the game come to him and capitalize on opportunities when the Bulls seem to need them most. He has an uncanny feel for the flow of the game and what is needed when. TWELVE trips to the hole last night folks. That was four more than the next highest of Luol Deng with 8. No one else on the Bulls had more than five visits and no one on the Pacers, playing at home mind you, had more than four visits to the line. Jimmy just outworks people and the refs reward him for it. He brings an entirely new dimension to the Bulls starting unit. 

One thing that I loved Stacey King mentioning last night was how opponent guards are unable to take off early down the court after Bulls' missed shots now...because they're forced to box out Butler who will kill you on the offensive glass if you don't "stay home". This eliminates uncontested buckets off the outiet pass. Just that one component can devastate an opponent's fast break opportunities while greatly helping an already potent Bulls transition defense. You may not see tons of points from Jimmy every night, but he can still dominate a game due to his impact everywhere else...steals, rebounds on both ends, shutting down whoever he is taking...and just the mere threat of his penetration to the bucket and putting a team into foul trouble. Isn't it nice to have a legit weapon at the two-guard spot again? I mean, as a Bulls fan you almost forgot what that looked like!

8. An opponent's allowance for poor play is smaller than the Bullls, because the Bulls can win games through effort alone.  They did last night! I mean listen..the Bulls didn't play well offensively last night, yet even on the road against a team who many feel is better than the was everything else the Bulls do that did in the Pacers. It wasn't that the Pacers didn't play hard. They definitely did...yet were still outhustled.  The Bulls won this game late in the third quarter and into fourth when you had the Bulls bench out there against most of the Pacers starters, so can't use the excuse that it was "just pre-season". The Bulls won this game by making the other team shoot worse, crushing them on the glass, getting to the line more, and capitalizing with more fast break points. There were a ton of runs in this game from both teams...and with about five minutes left in the third period and the Bulls reserves in, the Pacers went on a 12-0 run, went up by 10 points, and it looked over. Nope...the Bulls charged right back. They just keep fighting with hustle and aggressiveness, always feeling they can manufacture runs through their defense...and that extra effort, which always seems more than the opponent(even the best ones) leads to advantages in the categories I just mentioned...and those often dictate the result of the game. The Bulls own hustle categories and they win a lot because of it.

9. The Bulls offense looked SO much different with the presence of Derrick Rose. For the 20 minutes he was out there, all eyes were on him...which led to a ton of easy looks for the Bulls. They didn't take great advantage of it mind you, as Boozer, Luol Deng and Butler were a combined 6 of 25 from the floor...but GOOD looks were there due to the threat of Derrick taking the ball wherever he wants to when he wants to. Those three will certainly not shoot that way on most nights. Deng in particular looked a lot better than his 4 of 16 showing would suggest, with 15 points and 8 boards and nailing a couple long jumpers. His matchup with Paul George was fun to watch...a battle of two Eastern Conference small forward all stars. Deng looked ready for the season to me, no apparent mental blocks over his contract issues. Often last year it was evident how the Bulls struggled to create a quality shot without a point guard who could consistently break down a defense off the dribble. JUST THE PRESENCE of Rose helps alleviate that weakness ten-fold.

10. The Bulls, as a team, look SO confident. Like they own the court at the neighbirhood park. It's the way they hold themselves. It's the look in their eyes. It wasn't there last year and it is now. The bench players have the same look as the runs team deep. They don't expect to lose and you can see it. They weren't playing the Sacramento Kings here. The Pacers took the Heat to game 7 and they're back-to-back Eastern Conference Finalists. They too have major confidence, AND SHOULD, yet the Bulls seem to have a leg up on them. The Bulls have proven many times they can go into Indiana and win a game...and they had this look last night that they expected to win, even without Noah. Both teams were playing HARD. If you were in a coma the last 6 months and turned on the wouldn't have known this was pre-season, rust aside...and the Bulls won the battle. There will be plenty more this year.

If you watched the game, Bulls Fans, you should have LOVED Pre-Season Game #1. It wasn't pretty...but you definitely see this team's potential...and it looks lethal on many fronts. We're right on target.


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