Pacers President of Basketball Operations and all-time NBA great Larry Bird watched last night’s game from a few rows behind his team’s bench. I’m not going to make the obligatory “he should have suited up” joke, but the Pacers probably could have used him. They sure needed something. As it was, Bird was treated to an embarrassing 28-point loss.
That’s no way to treat a living legend.
But Indy’s woes are Danny Granger’s problem (although Granger missed the game with a sprained left ankle). The Bulls were happy to end their 4-4 preseason on a high note. Thanks to Luol Deng (29 points, 7-for-11 from the field, 12-for-12 from the line, 8 rebounds, 3 assists) and Derrick Rose (14 points, 6 assists, 2 blocks), Chicago was able to do it without Joakim Noah, who missed his second consecutive preseason game with flu-like symptoms.
After their half-hearted defensive effort against the Raptors, the Bulls turned up the D, holding the Pacers to 35 percent shooting. Chicago forced 20 turnovers, scored 25 points off those turnovers and won the rebounding battle 50-37. Of course, minus Granger and T.J. Ford (strained right hamstring), Indiana had to go with a starting lineup of Mike Dunleavy, Josh McRoberts, Roy Hibbert, Darren Collison and Lance Stephenson.
That group had a combined plus-minus score of -78.
With Noah out, Omer Asik started at center and finished with 6 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks and a steal. Of his 10 boards, 7 came on the offensive end, which was pretty impressive. Unfortunately, I have to throw a wet blanket on his blocks. All three came during garbage time in the fourth quarter. Two were against Paul George (who finished 2-for-14 from the field) and the other was against James Posey (0-for-4).
Still, the kid played a solid 26 minutes. And he’s been showing a willingness to play physical with the big boys.
Kyle Korver logged 24 minutes despite his ankle cyst. He finished with 7 points off the bench, but his shooting was so erratic (3-for-10 from the field and 1-for-5 from downtown) that I was starting to wonder whether he also had a cyst in his shooting hand. Oh well. At least he had 5 assists.
Speaking of which, the Bulls continue to be unselfish with the ball. They had 23 assists on their 33 field goals. And the team’s shooting percentage (45.8) might have been better if Korver, Ronnie Brewer (3-for-7), C.J. Watson (1-for-6) and Kurt Thomas (1-for-6) hadn’t come off the bench shooting blanks.
I have to admit, that’s a source of concern for me. The Bulls are deep, but they don’t really have an off-the-bench scorer this season. You know, a sixth man who can come in and put some points on the board when the offense is sluggish. I’m not sure who’s going to be starting at the two — Brewer, Korver or Keith Bogans — but none of them really qualify as an offensive spark plug. Bogans and Korver shoot and Brewer slashes. They don’t create.
Past that? Well, Kurt Thomas is an old man on his way out of the league. C.J. Watson has averaged 9.8 PPG during the preseason, but his shooting has been ghastly (32 percent from the field and 25 percent on threes). James Johnson has had a decent preseason (8 PPG on 50 percent shooting), but I wonder whether he can be consistent during the regular season. Taj Gibson will return to the bench when Carlos Boozer returns, but he doesn’t really create offense either. Don’t even bring up Brian Scalabrine.
My point is this: At this point, there simply isn’t a clear leader among the reserves. It may not be an issue. But the best teams usually have a guy like that.
Jumping topics here: Has anybody noticed Luol Deng has been on fire from three-point range? In eight preseason games, Deng went 15-for-29 from distance (51.7 percent). He attempted at least three triples in seven of the eight games. The only time he didn’t attempt three or more was during his abbreviated stint against the Magic.
Deng also closed out the preseason on fire. He scored 20+ points in three of his last four games (with the fourth game being a 5-point outing in Orlando). In those three games, Deng scored 23 points on 8-for-14 from the field, 22 points on 7-for-13 shooting, and last night’s 29 points on 7-for-11. He’s hitting threes, drawing fouls, rebounding the ball, playing defense…I’m telling you, Deng’s career might be revived under new coach Tom Thibodeau.
Said Thibs: “He has played a complete game. I’ve liked his defense and his offense. He’s mixing things up well. He’s moving without the ball, hitting the midrange jumper and added the 3-point shot. He’s posting up. He’s had a terrific preseason.”
The Bulls really, really need that strong play to continue, especially until Boozer gets back.