The Chicago Bulls suffered a frustrating defeat in their season opener, to say the least. They took a trip down to South Beach, and the Miami Heat smacked them around a little bit, winning 107-95. So now it’s time to figure out what we learned.
1) Derrick Rose’s transition will not be as seamless as the preseason led us to believe.
So, here’s the thing: Rose really didn’t play well last night. He wasn’t terrible, but he wasn’t good. He didn’t shoot well and he wasn’t able to get into the lane very often and he turned the ball over. But he looked good, and he made the most of his limited opportunities. I’m going to chalk this mostly up to a very good Heat defense and perhaps some general rust. But if things don’t improve against the New York Knicks on Thursday, that would be slightly concerning.
2) Without Carlos Boozer and Jimmy Butler, things would have been even worse than they were.
Boozer was terrific, scoring 31 points on 13/18 from the field and single-handedly carrying the Bulls in the first half. Of course, they scored all of 33 points in the first half and trailed by 21, but that’s not the point. He was aggressive and finished well at the rim, which is all we can ask of him. He looked like he did back in January, when he was a walking 20-10 machine and a legitimate force to be reckoned with. I’ve called for Boozer to be traded and/or amnestied any number of times, but the Boozer that showed up tonight is well worth his $15.8 million salary.
Butler played just six minutes in the first half because of foul trouble, and his play in the second half leads me to believe that he was a major factor in the Bulls’ implosion. About five minutes into the game, Jimmy picked up his second foul on a terrible charge call that came on a play where he kicked to Luol Deng, who drained a three. Restart this game from that point and don’t call a silly charge, and I think things play out much differently. After all, Jimmy came back in the second half and scored 17 of his 20 points. He finished at 6/12 from the field, 2/4 from downtown and 4/5 from the foul line, plus 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 5 steals. He helped trigger the Bulls mini comeback by making plays on defense and getting out in transition. It’s just a shame he couldn’t play more.
3) We all need to be patient with this team.
I have about 20 more things I want to say about this game, but I’m going to fold all of them into one larger point. This was one game. The team as a whole did not play well. Luol Deng was in foul trouble in the first half and couldn’t make a shot. We discussed Rose earlier. Tony Snell is not yet ready to handle LeBron James one-on-one. Kirk Hinrich was terrible. Mike Dunleavy couldn’t hit anything for three quarters before coming alive in the fourth. Joakim Noah didn’t play well per se, but he did play and he grabbed 11 rebounds in 20 minutes to go along with 2 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks. He missed a couple of shots inside — one was an obvious foul that went uncalled — and looked out of sync at times, but he missed the entire preseason. That’s kind of to be expected.
Here’s the biggest thing: The Bulls starting five — Rose, Jimmy, Deng, Boozer, Noah — had NEVER played together before last night. Never. The Bulls have been shuffling their rotations constantly in the preseason as guys battled various injuries, so there hasn’t been a ton of cohesion. That will come with time. Maybe it was just the Heat getting lazy, but they certainly seemed to figure some stuff out in the second half. Tom Thibodeau experimented with a smaller lineup featuring the Butler/Deng/Dunleavy trio on the wings and it worked pretty well. If the struggles of the nominal bench unit, featuring Nazr Mohammed at center, continue, that would be a nice fallback plan.
Anyway. The Bulls have today off and then take on the Knicks tomorrow night. If the Bulls team from the second half — the one that outscored Miami 62-53 — shows up, the Knicks don’t stand a chance.
The regular season is here, folks. Derrick Rose is back. Let’s all just be thankful for the moment. There will be plenty of time to panic later.