The Bulls, with six newcomers and without Derrick Rose, will be different in 2012. But if the preseason is any indication, one area where Tom Thibodeau's group won't lose a step is on defense.
Chicago ended its preseason schedule yesterday with a 97-90 win over the Pacers in South Bend. It was the Bulls' fourth straight win, and third straight game holding their opponent to 90 points or less.
Chicago was second in the NBA in defense last year, and showed no signs of slowing down this preseason.
The Bulls allowed 87.1 points in six games, the second best mark in the league. Only the Milwaukee Bucks on Oct. 16 topped 90 points, but did so in a 100-94 loss to Chicago.
Teams made less than 41 percent of their field goal attempts in seven preseason contests (40.8 percent), the fourth best mark in the league. The Bulls were stout, as always, on rebounding, averaging an NBA-best 48.4 per game.
The usual suspects led the way on the glass, with Joakim Noah (10.1), Taj Gibson (8.0) and Carlos Boozer (6.7) all putting up impressive numbers in limited minutes. Even 35-year-old Nazr Mohammed got into the action, grabbing 5.6 rebounds in seven games off the bench.
Chicago was pesky in the passing lanes as well, recording 11.0 steals per game, second in the league. Seven players averaged better than a steal per game, with Carlos Boozer (1.7) leading the way.
On the offensive side of the ball, it was a different story. In seven games, the Bulls averaged 90.4 points (26th in NBA), 3.3 3-pointers (30th), 19.6 assists (22nd) and shot 40.5 percent from the field (28th) and 25.8 percent from beyond the arc (30th).
The numbers leave plenty to be desired, but a closer look shows improvement as the preseason went along.
First three gamesLast four gamesPoints83.395.8FG percent35.744.0Assistsgame15.023.0Turnoversgame21.013.8Record1-24-0
In those four games, the Bulls showed more of a balanced scoring attack, too. Carlos Boozer led the team with 17.7 points per game during the win streak, Richard Hamilton was a nice surprise with 15.8 points, while Nate Robinson, who started twice in place of Kirk Hinrich, averaged 14.8 points in the final four wins. Luol Deng averaged 14.3 points, while Joakim Noah scored an efficient 11.3 points per game.
The improvement on offense may take a while as the newcomers adjust to each other and Thibodeau's style, but as long as the defense is playing as it did this preseason the Bulls may score just enough without Derrick Rose to stay in the win column.
Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Vegas Golden Knights Tuesday on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 8:45 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.
1. Corey Crawford vs. ... Oscar Dansk?
The Golden Knights have seen both Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban go down with injuries, so they're scraping for goaltenders at this point.
On one end of the ice, you have one of the best netminders in the league and a two-time Stanley Cup champion in Crawford. On the other, you have a 23-year-old rookie in Dansk making his first official NHL start who will be backed up by a 24-year-old rookie in Maxime Lagace, who has never appeared in an NHL game.
In his first game action, Dansk stopped 10 of 11 shots in relief during Saturday's 3-2 overtime win over St. Louis.
2. Fast start.
The Blackhawks are tied for second in both goals scored (13) and fewest goals allowed (four) in the first period, which has a large reason for their early season success.
The Golden Knights aren't the kind of team that gets out to a blazing start. They've allowed only five goals in the opening frame, but they've scored only five as well, which ranks among the bottom 10 teams in the league.
3. Beware of James Neal.
The Golden Knights became the first team in NHL history to win six of their first seven games of their inaugural season. And they probably don't have half of those wins if it weren't for Neal, who scored the game-winning goal in each of their first three games.
He leads the club with six goals and eight points, and serves as the motor for a team that doesn't have much offensive talent. He's the go-to guy, and somebody you have to keep an eye on when he's on the ice.
Here are Three Things to Watch in the Bulls' Tuesday night tilt against the Cavaliers on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live.
1. LeBron James will be on your television
Love him or hate him, LeBron James is must-see TV. Now in his 15th NBA season, James has shown no signs of slowing down. Despite playing just one preseason game (against the Bulls), James has shown anything but rust in three games, averaging 25.0 points on 60 percent shooting, 8.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists in nearly 37 minutes. He's a threat every night to do something you've never seen on a basketball court, His Airness included. Justin Holiday and Paul Zipser will have their hands full against the game's best player.
2. Lauri Markkanen, Week 2
Small sample size alert! But through the season's first week Markkanen and Ben Simmons are the only rookies averaging a double-double (Dallas' Dennis Smith has played just one game, averaging 16 points and 10 assists). While the Bulls have struggled through two games, Markkanen's net rating is third best on the team and he leads the Bulls bigs in rebounds per game and rebound percentage. Markkanen has shown some versatility offensively, and his 7 free-throw attempts have been a nice surprise as well.
3. Don't forget: The Bulls swept the Cavaliers last year
OK, so expecting a victory Tuesday night in Cleveland isn't smart. The Bulls will be underdogs just like they were in each of the four games last season, all of which were Bulls winners. It was the first time in 52 division series that LeBron James had been swept, which is pretty remarkable considering the Bulls were the No. 8 seed and the Cavs coasted to a third straight NBA Finals. We're not over here predicting a win. But just remember: the Bulls have fared well against James in the regular season.