Bulls

Bulls not surprised nor impressed with quick start

Bulls not surprised nor impressed with quick start

Perspective was the word of the day in the Bulls’ locker room after their impressive thrashing of the Indiana Pacers Saturday night at the United Center, putting a nice capper on a 2-0 start.

It is just two games, they said. Two home games at that.

Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade were quick to point out the schedule has been kind to the Bulls in the opening days, as their first two opponents were playing the back end of back-to-back sets as opposed to both teams having equal rest.

Jimmy Butler made sure to say he’s neither surprised nor impressed with how things have gone so far. He was around last year when the Bulls were second in the East in early January, 10 games above .500, and found themselves in the lottery four months later.

“Am I impressed? No. I know what we’re capable of. I’ve seen it,” Butler said to CSNChicago.com at his locker Saturday night. “On the outside looking in, you might be impressed but we have a long way to go. I think we can do so much better in so many areas but we gotta keep going in the right direction.”

When asked if he was surprised at how cohesive things look—which considering 10 new players and four new starters is a feat in itself—he wouldn’t allow his team that, either.

“No. Because I’ve seen it. I’m with these guys every day in the gym,” Butler said. “It doesn’t surprise me. It doesn’t surprise me when you see the work. You see it every day. Y’all don’t see it, so you might say 'I can’t believe they’re playing like this.' I see it.”

Anybody who knows Butler well knows he only respects hard work, so seeing the likes of Taj Gibson, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo working just as hard as he is something he didn’t see last year—which frustrated him to no end.

The three all mentioned the harder training camp, believing it’s led to more trust and better ball-movement, movement that wasn’t seen at all last year.

Even if predicting a 2-0 start wasn’t the boldest thing in the world, the way they’ve played is capturing attention. Averaging 29.5 assists being chief among the shocking stats.

“I’ve seen it in practice. It’s good to see it translate in the game,” Wade said. We’re just focused on winning ballgames. We’ve given ourselves the blueprint of what we need to do. Now the most important thing is how many times we get to that game?”

“It’s gonna be times where the ball isn’t gonna move much and we have to get back to that. We gotta move it but most importantly the way we defended makes me happy because it takes a long time to get on the same page when you have guys coming from different systems.”

Rondo was the only starter not to reach double figures but was arguably Saturday’s most impactful player, setting the table offensively and keeping Jeff Teague from finding a rhythm.

“We’ve been practicing 30 days straight,” said Rondo with a chuckle. “The chemistry is coming along. The key is getting to a good start.”

The Bulls are taking this act on the road for a quick trip to Brooklyn and Boston, as the Celtics will want a little payback for the Bulls pulling away on opening night. The players are just as curious to see if the ball movement and stout defense carries, with Wade saying they have to “take a picture” of how to play as the season progresses.

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If things keep moving in this direction, especially considering the modest expectations, eyes will open.

“We just wanna keep the message of consistency and playing for one another,” Rondo said. “I don’t really care what the outsiders say, or opponents. At the end of the day, we have to play them. So message or not, you gotta face us, we gotta face you. At the end of the night, the best team wins.”

“The league is a game of runs. You do look around and say, they might be for real. We took care of home court. No big deal.”

Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games

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USA TODAY

Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games

If you haven't heard, Neil Funk is cutting 20 road games from his 2018-19 Bulls' play-by-play schedule.

Friday, the Bulls announced that Adam Amin, Andy Demetra and Kyle Draper will fill in for Funk for the first five of those games.

Amin, a play-by-play commentator for ESPN, will games on Oct. 22 against the Mavericks and Nov. 14 against the Celtics. He grew up in Addison, resides in Chicago and also does play-by-play for Bears preseason games.

Demetra is from Oak Brook and currently is the play-by-play broadcaster for Georgia Tech basketball and football. He will call games on Oct. 26 against the Hornets and Oct. 27 against the Hawks. He has previous play-by-play experience with the SEC Network, Pac-12 Network and Fox Sports South.

Draper will call the Bulls' Nov. 7 game against the Pelicans. He is the Celtics' pregame and postgame host for NBC Sports Boston and an occasional play-by-play annoucer and sideline reporter for the Celtics.

The Bulls said they will continue providing updates on substitute broadcasters as they are scheduled.

Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East

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USA TODAY

Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East

Finishing 9th in the Eastern Conference last season cost Stan Van Gundy his job as Pistons head coach and President of Basketball Operations. Van Gundy was replaced on the bench by 2017-18 Coach of the Year Dwane Casey, who was fired after the Raptors were swept by Cleveland in the conference semi-finals.

Casey’s job in Detroit is to find a way to develop the young players on the roster while getting the team to the playoffs. He has a pair of All-Star caliber players in the front court, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, along with highly-paid, erratic point guard Reggie Jackson.

Griffin has battled injuries in recent seasons, but Van Gundy decided to roll the dice at mid-season a year ago by trading Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley AND a 1st round pick to the Clippers for the former slam dunk champion in a desperate bid to save his job. The trade didn’t work out for Van Gundy, but it’s possible Griffin could enjoy a resurgence in Detroit this season.

The 29-year-old power forward scored 26 points, pulled down eight rebounds and dished out six assists in the Pistons’ 103-100 win over Brooklyn on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Drummond had a monster game with 24 points and 20 rebounds. As Bulls fans know all too well, Drummond has made the 20 rebound game commonplace when facing Fred Hoiberg’s squad in recent years.

As for Jackson, a severely sprained right ankle limited him to just 45 games last season, probably costing Detroit a chance to make the playoffs. The 8th year pro is lightning quick, with the ability to disrupt defenses by getting into the paint and challenging bigger defenders at the rim. Jackson scored 19 points in the season opener against Brooklyn, and he’ll be a problem for the Bulls Saturday night, especially if Kris Dunn is unavailable.

Casey is still trying to figure out how to use the rest of the roster Van Gundy built, with recent 1st round pick Henry Ellenson and former rotation player Jon Leuer getting DNP-CD’s against the Nets. Meanwhile, two other expected rotation players, small forward Stanley Johnson and swingman Reggie Bullock missed the opener because of injuries.

That left second year guard Luke Kennard and 2018 2nd round draft pick Bruce Brown as the other starters in game one, something that’s unlikely to continue once everyone’s healthy.

So, how do the Bulls even their record at 1-1 on Saturday? Here are my three keys:

1. Keep Drummond and Griffin off the offensive boards. This is much easier said than done. Drummond in particular is relentless going after missed shots, and his bulk will cause problems for 19 year old rookie Wendell Carter Jr. Hoiberg hinted at possible line-up changes on Friday morning, which could include starting veteran Robin Lopez at center to battle Drummond inside. Griffin has turned into more of a jump shooter now and doesn’t have the multiple jump capability that characterized his early seasons in the NBA, but he’s still a threat to create 2nd shot opportunities.

2. Close out on three-point shooters. Of all the defensive issues for the Bulls in Philadelphia on Thursday, losing touch with shooters in transition was probably the most troublesome. Robert Covington seemed to be open at the three-point line throughout the game, and Bulls players struggled to handle cross-match situations. Kennard had one of the best games of his rookie season against the Bulls, and Jackson, Ish Smith and Langston Galloway are all capable of heating up from long distance.

3. Attack Detroit’s interior defense. The Bulls were at their best offensively in the first quarter against Philadelphia when they drove to the basket to set up easy scoring chances. Zach LaVine was getting to the rim at will in scoring 15 of his 30 points in the opening 12 minutes, and his penetration also set up Bobby Portis for open looks from the three-point line. Hopefully, Dunn will return to stabilize the point guard position and give the Bulls' first unit another shot creator so they can sustain their pace and scoring potential over four quarters.

Saturday’s home opener is definitely winnable against a Detroit team still finding its way under a new coaching staff. Better effort and attention to detail on the defensive end along with a fast-paced, drive and kick offensive attack should make for an exciting opening night at the United Center.

Make sure to join Kendall Gill, Will Perdue, Kelly Crull and me for a special one hour edition of Bulls Pre-Game Live at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago and the new My Teams app, followed by the play by play call with Neil Funk and Stacey King at 7 p.m. And, stay tuned after the final buzzer for reaction and analysis on an expanded edition of Bulls Postgame Live.