You know what I love about the NBA preseason?
It’s stress-free basketball. During the regular season and playoffs, I obsess over losses. Even worse, I obsess over what I consider to be ominous signs during wins…bad shooting, poor rebounding, and so on.
During the preseason, I can simply shrug my worries away. The wins and losses don’t accumulate or count toward homecourt advantage, so 0-2 hardly matters. Basketball-Reference.com doesn’t list a player’s preseason stats, so there’s no need to sweat Luol Deng’s 3-for-9 shooting night.
I don’t have to second-guess anything.
And yet I found myself doing just that last night. It wasn’t the loss that bothered me. After all, Dallas starters Dirk Nowitzki (30 points, 10 rebounds) and Caron Butler (who scored 14 of his 22 points in the fourth) played until the final minutes. Meanwhile, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau used a clutch lineup of John Lucas, Kyle Korver, James Johnson, Brian Scalabrine and Omer Asik.
That’s not the team’s clutch-time five.
What worries me are negative trends. After getting outrebounded 42-37 by the Bucks on Tuesday, the Bulls were again crushed on the boards last night. Dallas held a 54-34 rebounding edge and finished with 25 second-chance points. Can Carlos Boozer pull down one-handed rebounds? Have we ruled that out? Because that eight-week absence is starting to feel really long.
Said Thibodeau: “We’re small. So we have to gang rebound. If we can’t do that, we won’t be successful. We can’t leak out. We have guys taking off early trying to get on the break. They need to get in the fight first.”
Chicago also struggled through another night of poor shooting and stunted scoring that gave me flashbacks to the worst days of last season. In their first preseason game, the Bulls shot 42 percent and scored only 83 points. Last night, they shot 42 percent and scored only 83 points.
That’s definitely the bad kind of deja vu.
The three-point shooting was particularly bad: 6-for-21 as a team, despite the fact that Keith Bogans went 3-for-3 from deep and Luol Deng was 2-for-4. To be fair, that stat was padded by John Lucas’ 0-for-5 shooting inaccuracy. Derrick Rose continues to shoot treys with confidence…he just isn’t hitting them. He went 0-for-3 last night.
Speaking of Rose, his ball distribution was an issue once again. I know some people think I’m needlessly nitpicking on this point, but through the first two preseason games, Rose has attempted 25 field goals while accumulating only 4 assists (2 assists per game). During last night’s game, Joakim Noah (6 assists) surpassed that total and Scalabrine matched it. Am I the only person bothered by that?
A 6-to-1 ratio of shots to assists is not what you want from your All-Star point guard. It’s just not. I’m all for Rose hitting shots. But he needs to create them for his teammates too.
Still, complaints aside, the Bulls played solid defense, holding the Mavs to 38 percent shooting. Dallas lived off of their rebounding and a 31-18 advantage in free throw attempts. And, of course, the clutch play of their starters against Chicago’s reserves.
Moreover, the Bulls starters played well. Every one of them had a positive plus-minus score, led by Taj Gibson (+13), Noah (+11) and Rose (+11). By contract, only Nowitzki was in the green for Dallas (+5). The rest of the Mavs’ starters were a combined -16.
Chicago struggled when Thibs went to the bench. That’s not terribly surprising, considering the Bulls were missing Boozer (broken right hand), Ronnie Brewer (sore right hamstring), and C.J. Watson (sore left quadriceps). When a team is down two starters and their backup point guard, don’t expect much in the way of depth.
To wit: Brian Scalabrine has logged 43 minutes in two preseason games. Once the regular season starts, he might not have 43 minutes of PT by the trade deadline.
But hey, what am I getting all worked up about? Like I said at the beginning of this post, preseason games don’t count for anything. I should just sit back, relax and enjoy this meaningless basketball. No, really. I’m going to stop fretting about misguided shooting and Derrick’s sticky fingers. I wouldn’t mind if somebody addressed the rebounding issue, though. Is that cool?
Said Noah: “Just for the psyche of the team, it’s a problem. When teams are getting second and third opportunities, they get confidence. So we have to eliminate that.”
Okay. Good. I’m done complaining then. For now.