Well, that was fun. Buzzer-beating wins like Chicago’s 102-101 victory over Utah always get fans and players psyched up…even if nobody will remember them come playoff time. Like I said before, preseason games have relatively little to do with regular season (or postseason) success. Although maybe that’s less true for some of the Bulls than it is for players on other teams. Redemption might be the one-word mission statement for guys like Luol Deng (who has disappointed for two straight seasons due to injuries), Kirk Hinrich (who last season lost his starting to Derrick Rose and has had to endure almost constant trade speculation), and Jannero Pargo (who skipped the 2008-09 campaign to play overseas). And rookies like James Johnson and Taj Gibson obviously want to make names for themselves in the Association.
Guys who looked good:
The game took place in London, which meant adopted native son Deng — who had to skip playing with the British National team in the Eurobasket 2009 tournament — got the chance to show off for his peeps. And that’s exactly what he did, scoring a co-game-high 18 points to go along with 2 rebounds, a co-game-high 5 assists and 2 blocked shots in only 25 minutes of action. More importantly, his shooting picked up significantly from the first preseason game as Luol went 8-for-12, which included some nice slashing baskets and 1-for-1 marksmanship from downtown. As a Bulls fan, seeing him play like that made relief wash over me in an awesome wave. Not that I want to get too excited. It’s only the preseason. But still…
Despite Deng’s heat, Johnson stole the show. Maybe he was embarrassed after his poor showing in the first preseason game (in which he didn’t grab a single rebound and fouled out in 20 minutes), because the rookie not only matched Deng’s (and Utah’s Paul Milsap’s) game-high 18 points, he also snared a game-high 8 rebounds (including a game-high 5 offensive boards) to go with 2 assists and 2 shot swats. He was also aggressive enough to earn several trips to the charity stripe, where he went a perfect 7-for-7. Johnson’s biggest play of the night was rebounding a Derrick Byars’ miss and sinking the game-winning fallaway shot at the buzzer. Said Johnson: “Just shoot it, that was the only instinct. I knew we didn’t have much time on the clock. I just tried to let it go as fast as I can before the clock ran out.” It was enough to make me overlook his not-great shooting (5-for-12), five personal fouls and co-game-high 4 turnovers.
Captain Kirk, starting at point guard in place of the injured Derrick Rose, went a perfect 4-for-4 from the field (including 2-for-2 from downtown) and finished with 11 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and a steal in 26 minutes. Have I mentioned how glad I am to have Kirk backing up Rose and (probably) John Salmons this season? I’m telling you, he’s going to be the best reserve combo guard in the league.
Guys who looked both good and bad:
Gibson came down a little from the first preseason game, but he still finished with the respectable line of 10 points (4-for-8), 5 rebounds, 2 blocks and a steal. Unfortunately, he fouled out in 33 minutes and matched Johnson’s 4 turnovers.
Joakim Noah impressed by dishing out 4 assists, earning a team-high eight free throws, and blocking 6 (!!!) shots. I loved watching Joakim go after the ball. What I didn’t love were the 4 turnovers and the fact that he was outrebounded by Kirk Hinrich 7-to-3.
In his official NBA return, Pargo scored 16 points, dished out 5 assists, knocked down a trio of threes, and even blocked a shot, which is quite an accomplishment for such a wee little man. But it took him a game-high 17 shots to rack up those points, proving that he still isn’t hesitant to shoot the ball. He also fouled out in 35 minutes.
Guys who didn’t play:
Rose (sore right Achilles’ tendon and ankle), Salmons (personal reasons), Tyrus Thomas (right hip contusion).
Reasons for hope:
With Hinrich and Pargo available, the Bulls went 8-for-16 from downtown. In fact, the Bulls shot nearly 51 percent (36-for-71) as a team. They also won the rebounding battle 42-35.
Reasons for concern:
Despite grabbing 7 more rebounds than the Jazz, the Bulls gave up 14 offensive rebounds. Chicago was one of the worst defensive rebounding teams in the league last season, so that’s something I’m keeping my beady eyes on. Worse than the defensive rebounding problem was the fact that the Bulls had trouble holding onto the rock. They committed 23 turnovers, which resulted in 30 points for the Jazz. It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that giving your opponent 14 second opportunities and 30 bonus points is (usually) a sure-fire way to lose games.
Deng health update:
According to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: “The stress fracture in his right leg that sidelined Deng for the final 29 games last season continues to dictate a stringent minutes plan, even if he’s the local hero. ‘It still gets a little sore, but it’s way less,’ Deng said. ‘I think that helps my confidence. Going into the game, it felt great. I didn’t even think about it at all. We just need to keep managing the minutes and getting treatment; stay with the plan for the preseason.'”
It’s probably nothing, but that “it still gets a little sore” comment from Luol made me feel a little queasy.