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Bulls Thu Nov 01 2012
This season opener felt different. The typical blind fan excitement was traded in for subdued acceptance that even overachieving won't be good enough to go deep in the playoffs. This is, of course, because the team living the reality of regular season games without Derrick Rose. Though this squad is most likely capable of winning 45-plus games, last night seemed as if this team went from "first-to-worst" like they did in the '98-'99 season.
Last night the Bulls fought the fight we expect them to "pick" all season sans Rose, in a 93-87 win over the Sacramento Kings.
On the mind of every Bulls devotee was the league mandated 11pm deadline for teams to extend the contracts of players in the third and forth year of a deal. Taj Gibson's contract was expected to be signed before the animated Bull busted through the visiting teams bus in the opening video animation. No deal was done, and the game played on.
But post-game, the situation changed. A contract extension was made between the financially conscientious organization and Gibson by the time 9-year-olds were deep in their M&M/Mars-induced Halloween slumber. According to Aggrey Sam, who recently re-tweeted a bad Bulls joke I made, the deal is worth $38 million over four years. After declining to re-sign defensive stalwart Omer Asik in the off-season, the Bulls had to make this move to add front court depth. Moving forward, front court depth will be important, as evident in the amount of minutes the two starting front court guys played (Carlos Boozer 33 minutes, Joakim Noah 40) in the team's first game.
This article is telling of what to expect this year. This should be a commonplace game recap piece but like the rest of this season, the team's game outcomes will be overshadowed by personnel problems. Pieces just recapping the game will be posted when it's appropriate. With that read, the Bulls won a not-as-close as the stat sheet would suggest with great individual all-around performance from Noah (23 points, 10 rebounds, 5 steals) and efficient scoring from Boozer (18 points, 61% shooting on the night). The trio of combo-guards/wings: Kirk Hinrich, Loul Deng, and Richard Hamilton struggled from the field, going a combined 11-36 which led to the Bulls out-rebounding the Kings on the offensive glass 14 to 11.
The Bulls defense forced the Kings to shoot a lot of low percentage and buzzer beating shots. They matched the young athletic Kings on fast-break points with 14. Marco Belinelli played better than he had all preseason in 11 minutes of action. Jimmy Butler was brought in on key defensive moments of the game down the stretch, including being mainly responsible for the Kings being called on an in-bounds violation with 35 seconds left which all but clinched the win for the Bulls. Pre-Season darlings Nate Robinson and Nazr Mohammed were opening game non-factors.
As I said in this article's "opening tip-off," this year already feels different. It's up to the individual fan to take out of this season what they want to. Do you want to spend the first half of the season hoping Derrick can hurry up and trust his surgically repaired knee when it's healed, or do you want to spend the "pre-#TheReturn" watching his teammates hustle for 48 minutes, while trusting each other, and not making excuses in galvanizing displays of overachieving basketball? It will be fun to see how this starting lineup comprised of captain-capable individuals, will lead the team collectively by being complementary and differing to one another when it's appropriate. This contingency plan of "leader by committee" will win basketball contingent games like it did against the Kings and versus others who can't out-coach, out-defend, and out-"care" the Bulls.
This season opener felt different. Different will do until their difference-maker makes his return.