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Rip returns to Palace, helps Bulls cruise past Pistons

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Rip returns to Palace, helps Bulls cruise past Pistons

Updated: Wednesday, Jan. 4, 11:10 p.m.

AUBURN HILLS, MICH. While the return of Rip Hamilton to his old stomping grounds ended up being somewhat anticlimactic, the shooting guards return to the Bulls lineup only further stabilized his new team, which convincingly beat their Central Division rivals, the Pistons, 99-83, Wednesday night.

Five Bulls scored in double figures in a balanced effort that highlighted the squads unselfishness.

I thought the ball moved, extra pass. I thought our spacing looked a lot better, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. I thought we ran the floor harder. I liked the offense a lot.

The visitors jumped on the Pistons early, scoring the games first six points and showcasing solid ball movement, as well as suffocating defense. Hamilton (14 points, five assists), in his first game in the Palace of Auburn Hills since he signed with the Bulls, was effective, converting a traditional three-point play and dishing out a pair of assists when defenders collapsed on him after coming off screens.

First quarter was good; I think just adrenaline, said Hamilton, who described his injured groin as sore afterwards. Second quarter, I felt a little pull, but there was no way that I was getting off the court.

Added Thibodeau: I thought he handled the whole situation really well. Got himself ready to play, was focused and to start the game, he came out and he was playmaking. He wasnt trying to do too much and I think that speaks to his experience. He plays to win and I thought that he was terrific.

But the home team, led by the mature play of second-year big man Greg Monroe (19 points, 13 rebounds, five assists), battled back they were assisted by Thibodeau picking up an early technical foul for arguing an officials call that a Rodney Stuckey made basket was indeed good to ensure they werent run out of their own building from the outset.

However, Chicagos continued unselfishness, a spark from its reserves -- with backup point guard C.J. Watson sidelined, Derrick Rose (17 points, 10 assists) stayed in the game, along with Luol Deng, and got his first dunk of the young season -- and a re-commitment to defense led to a 22-14 after a quarter of play.

Thibodeau rested Rose at the start of the second period, turning over the reins to third-stringer John Lucas III, who, after some early jitters (a turnover and a foul), drew a charge, found Taj Gibson (12 points, seven rebounds, four assists) for a dunk and knocked down a triple in quick succession. Speaking of Gibson, his typical high-energy play was also a key factor in the modified Bench Mob maintaining the Bulls edge over their hosts, then turning it into a double-digit cushion.

I thought John was terrific, but Ive told you guys this all along. That doesnt surprise me, said Thibodeau. His rebounding, excellent. His defense, excellent. Seven rebounds in 20 minutes or so, real active.

Thibodeau went back to his starters and they extended the lead even further, as Joakim Noah (13 points, 11 rebounds, four assists) scored and rebounded at a high level, while Carlos Boozer (19 points, seven rebounds) was effective as a post-up threat and mid-range shooter and Rose was content to run the show, but made sure the Pistons occasionally felt his scoring presence. Going into the intermission, the Bulls held a 51-35 advantage.

Detroit, minus starting point guard Stuckey (he wouldnt return to the contest after halftime due to a sore left groin; rookie Brandon Knight replaced him), attempted to mount a challenge after the break behind the polished Monroe, but the Bulls held their hosts at bay. Boozer and Noah continued to dominate inside, while the backcourt duo of Hamilton and Rose simply picked their spots.

Weve been playing great this season. I know a lot of you all media, for some reason, put our play under a microscope, but I thought weve been playing great, said Boozer. Our record shows it, our defense shows it playing great defense this season together and were sharing the ball good offensively, made the right plays and were having fun.

Added Rose: They played great. Moving the ball well, passing the ball to each other. They played great together. Thats how they always should play. They always look for each other and thats a good thing, tells you that they like each other, but I think their passing was on target today.

The guard tandem were tremendous distributors in the third quarter, setting up the Bulls post players for multiple easy opportunities throughout the period, which ended with the Bulls leading, 71-58. Not that the fans in attendance cared, as the biggest rise out of the sparse Palace audience of 9,125 came when the JumboTron showed an arena employee showing off his 1980s-style dance moves.

Contributions from reserves Gibson and Ronnie Brewer (nine points), whose much-improved jumper gave the swingman an added dimension to his game, got the Bulls off to a good start in the final stanza.

Once again, though, the Pistons tried to battle back to within striking distance, as the likes of rugged forward Jonas Jerebko (13 points) and Chicago native Will Bynum (10 points in 16 minutes of action) flirted with cutting the deficit to single digits by the midway point of the frame.

"I thought we loosened up, Thibodeau observed. We were trading buckets for a while there.

Down the stretch, however, Chicagos offensive balance allowed the visitors to cruise, as Boozer, in particular, scored with ease, though the Pistons began to lay the wood to their guests Noah was fouled flagrantly by former teammate Ben Gordon, Hamilton was knocked to the ground by Bynum and Rose lay on the court momentarily, then walked back to the bench under his power and returned to the contest after taking a scary fall as if they were the Bad Boy Pistons of old.

However, Rose insisted he was good afterwards, though he had his left elbow X-rayed, while Thibodeau said, Thats part of the NBA.

Although Thibodeau was dissatisfied with his teams ball-security issues at the end of the contest, their ability to stay focused on the second night of back-to-back games, ensuring their new teammate had a successful semi-homecoming, was enough for the perfectionist, who prizes winning above style points, to be moderately pleased.

Were still not a 48-minute team. I like the way were moving. I think we responded well to our performance yesterday. I thought the concentration was really good today. I want us to move in the right direction, so this was a good day, but in this league, once you start feeling good about yourself, youre going to get knocked on your butt, said Thibodeau.

Weve got to be ready. Were going down to Orlando. Theyre really good. They put a lot of pressure, theyve got a dominant inside force and great shooting.

Bulls Talk Podcast: The ultimate Bulls briefing to get you ready for Opening Night

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: The ultimate Bulls briefing to get you ready for Opening Night

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski sits down with Kendall Gill and Will Perdue to discuss all the need-to-know topics to get you ready for the season opener. The guys analyze how Lauri’s injury will make its mark on the early season rotation, whether Jabari will return to the starting unit or embrace the 6th-man role and why Portis betting on himself is the right move. Plus, Kendall has the key to unlock a “6th Man of the Year” award for Portis this season.

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below:

'Underdog' Tyler Ulis will fit in just fine with these Bulls

'Underdog' Tyler Ulis will fit in just fine with these Bulls

It's been a whirlwind of a summer for point guard Tyler Ulis, but he finally feels like he's found a home. Literally.

The 5-foot-9 point guard was cut by the Suns in late June, latched on with a training camp invite by the Warriors and was subsequently waived on Friday. It was then that Ulis, working out in California, received a call from his agent. He had been claimed on waivers by the Chicago Bulls. His hometown Bulls.

"I grew up watching (the Bulls)," he said after his first practice on Tuesday. "Growing up in this city, you always want to be a Bull and you’re always willing and hoping that you’ll be here one day...I'm home now. It's a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to it."

Ulis is back in Chicago for the first time since he was breaking records for Marian Catholic High School. Ulis became a five-star recruit for the Spartans and in 2014 signed on as the next point guard in the long line of successful floor generals under John Calipari and Kentucky.

Ulis backed up the Harrison twins, Andrew and Aaron, as a freshman but saw his role increase as a sophomore. He blossomed, earning Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors in the SEC. Only Anthony Davis had ever earned both honors in a single season.

He declared for the 2016 NBA Draft with hopes of becoming a first-round pick. But unlike the Calipari point guards before him, Ulis slipped all the way down to the second round before the Phoenix Suns scooped him up with the 34th pick.

"Honestly I really did think (the Bulls) were going to draft me," Ulis said on Tuesday when recalling the 2016 NBA Draft. The Bulls took Denzel Valentine with the 14th pick. "But I'm here now so that's all that matters."

In 132 games, Ulis averaged 7.6 points and 4.1 assists in 21.1 minutes. He started 58 of those games, and while his shooting left plenty to be desired he handled the offense well and brought that same pesky defense he showed off at Kentucky. It wasn't enough, even for the guard-deprived Suns. They released Ulis before free agency this summer - which ruffled the feathers of franchise guard Devin Booker - in a rather unexpected move.

"My Mom always taught me (to) never expect anything," Ulis said of his release from the Suns. "When you're on a losing team like that anything can happen. I feel like I showed I could play at this level but they went a different way."

The Suns' loss - they may resort to starting 38-year-old Jamal Crawford at point guard this year - could be the Bulls' gain. Expectations should be harnessed for Ulis, especially with him joining the roster this late in the preseason, but the Bulls, like Phoenix, have question marks at the point.

Kris Dunn is entrenched as the starter, but Cameron Payne struggled mightily in the preseason and Ryan Arcidiacono doesn't project as a contributor. That leaves an opening for Ulis to potentially fill on the second unit, and apparently he's making a statement early in practice.

"Tyler had a real good practice," Fred Hoiberg said. "I think I think he changes the pace when he’s out there on the floor. He picks up full-court, he gets up underneath you. He can make a shot. He’s got good vision and can make a play with the ball in his hand. So I was very impressed with his first workout."

Ulis is working on a 45-day two-way contract, so it's unknown how much he'll contribute. He could be shuttled back and forth between Chicago and the Windy City Bulls, but there's certainly an opportunity for him to stick. He'll be playing catch-up and learning on the go, but doing so in his hometown wth friends and family around him for support will work to his advantage.

"Being a smaller guard growing up in a big man’s sport, you get looked over. So I’m the underdog," he said. "And I feel like this team is an underdog, so we should all be excited to get the season started and prove people wrong."