“I think my confidence is still growing,” said Rose, who generally bordered between fabulous and spectacular in his preseason progression as the Bulls finished 4-4 with the “home game” loss in St. Louis.
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Bulls close 4-4 preseason with a 113-112 loss

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By Sam Smith | 10.25.2014 | 1:52 a.m. CT | asksam@bulls.com | @SamSmithHoops

The story of the Bulls’ preseason, the entire season, actually, was to be the health and effectiveness of Derrick Rose, who missed most of the last two seasons with injuries.

But it’s been a happy ending, or, more appropriately, a happy beginning as Rose Friday had 27 points, three-of-seven on threes with five assists and just one turnover in the Bulls’ preseason closing 113-112 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

That gave Rose for the past two games 57 points in 56 minutes, 24-of-41 shooting with seven-of-12 on threes, eight assists and one turnover. Rose thus finished the eight preseason games averaging a team high 16.5 points in 22 minutes per game and shooting 43 percent on threes.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

“I think my confidence is still growing,” said Rose, who generally bordered between fabulous and spectacular in his preseason progression as the Bulls finished 4-4 with the “home game” loss in St. Louis. “The game is still slowing down to me. I’m just running the game a little bit better and not rushing myself when I’m out there. I’ve been preparing for every game and I’ve been preparing for this moment for a long time. So I’m just ready.

“I feel like I’m in a good place,” Rose added. “Just missing two years, coming back, being able to play again against all these great players, and really go up against them. I don’t know if they would be able to do the same if they were in my shoes. But the situation happened with me and all I can do is try and be motivated by it and just try and move in the right direction every day. Stay positive.

“Beyond that,” Rose said when asked if he feels pride in getting back to this level of play. “I’m in a great place mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.”

Perhaps the same can’t be said completely for the Bulls, who lost a 13-point fourth quarter lead with fewer than eight minutes remaining despite Bulls starters closing against the Timberwolves reserves. Even though Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was either annoyed after the game or practicing his Bill Belichick impression, it really wasn’t a meltdown situation as the Bulls got Rose and Mike Dunleavy threes in the last 24 seconds. They even got a last Dunleavy court length throw to try to win the game.

It seemed apparent it was like the last day of school in sixth grade in June. The kids were ready to take off as the teacher was trying to get in that last history lesson. So the young and rebuilding Timberwolves took a look at the likes of Zach LaVine, Anthony Bennett and Gorgui Dieng while the Bulls, with bigger goals ahead, rode most of their regulars while Thibodeau also experimented with big man pairings among Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson.

“Too many fastbreaks,” noted Rose about the fourth quarter close. “Turnovers first off, and they got to the open court. With the guys they had out there, they had a faster group with LaVine and the other guys. They played well, knocking down shots, having confidence to take the shots and easy baskets. We put them at the line, too. It didn’t fall in our favor.”

It didn’t really seem a major concern, even after the Bulls uneasy start, an atypical 64-64 game at halftime and then a dominant third quarter when Rose’s 11 points, rugged team defense and Noah dominating the boards enabled the Bulls to take a double digit lead and hold it for half of the fourth quarter.

But Gasol had a rough close with several turnovers among his seven for the game, which turned into runouts and eventually had Thibodeau closing with Noah and Gibson as the coach continues to juggle and try to get a feel for the appropriate rotations.

Everyone is in school.

Noah, after a halting start still trying to fit in with Gasol as Thibodeau has taken to trying to go through Gasol in the post, had his best game of the preseason with 32 minutes and six points, 17 rebounds (nine offensive) and nine assists. But Noah’s role in the offense clearly remains unclear as he’s being asked to fit in around Rose and Gasol. Noah averaged just 5.7 points while equaling Gasol for the team lead of 8.3 rebounds. Gasol averaged 10.8 points, but a team high 5.2 turnovers per game.

The hub of the offense last season with Rose out and Pau on the beach, Noah now often alternates between active spectator and ace screener. It’s a big change from when everything ran through him last season.

“I’m happy with my progression, physically where I am,” said Noah, whose knee condition had been a question mark after offseason surgery. “Physically, I feel like I’m ready for a season. That’s big. That’s a good feeling, knowing physically I still have a ways to go but I feel like I can compete the way I want to. I feel like it’s going to be an exciting year; we have a lot of talent, a lot of potential. That being said, we have a lot of work to do. We have a lot of new guys, guys coming back from injuries. We have to be better offensively and defensively. I think it’s going to be fun.

“It’s not the new guys; it’s everybody,” Noah said about defensive breakdowns and the Timberwolves shooting 51.9 percent for the game. “This is a team game. You win together, you lose together. I think the mindset is good. If our edge isn’t where it needs to be… Hopefully, (it’s) because it’s preseason. There’s definitely a lot of things worth noting.”

Like 36 three-point attempts.

Yes, for the Bulls (they made 13).

Thibodeau figures to offer plenty to note in the next few days before the Wednesday season opener as he seemed, let’s say, disappointed with the defensive deficiencies. Still, it was Thibodeau who did use 10 different players in the first quarter and continued to alter rotations. It’s not easy to develop defensive cohesion like that.

“Guys are learning new strategies,” said Rose. “Our strategy with Thibs… It took me three or four years to really even get a good concept of being in the right spot at the right time (defensively). You’re sticking new guys in there (and) when they come in the game you’ve got to really think about, ‘What’s our defensive strategy?’ The NBA is changing where you have fours that are shooting more threes, fives are shooting threes now. So you’ve got to know our game plan. The guys are going to get adjusted by us talking to them, making sure everyone is on the same page.

“A lot of changes,” noted Rose. “I don’t think I’ve even played with Niko (Mirotic). [Thibodeau] is throwing different teams out there, different lineups, and all we can do is try and see who is out there, see if we have any mismatches so we can try to exploit them. If not, just run our offense.”

The Bulls ran that offense well as Dunleavy was sharp with 17 points and three of eight threes. Gibson had 14 points and 11 rebounds while Aaron Brooks added 13 points and two of three on threes. Though Doug McDermott struggled with his shot at two of nine, he showed an all around game in getting to the basket, rebounding and moving the ball. He had five rebounds and three assists along five free throws, second most to Gibson. There were more good players than bad ones. The Bulls also returned to rebounding dominance with a 50-38 edge, though the Timberwolves had 21 fast break points playing even without No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins. Gasol has had difficulty fitting in as it seems Thibodeau still is trying to figure out how and where to best use him. Gasol had six points, eight rebounds, four blocks and the seven turnovers.

It all, nevertheless, left Thibodeau offering curt responses—nothing about Kirk—to most questions.

It’s both the strength and weakness of Thibodeau. His preparation and continued demands are a big reason the team can regularly have more success than its talent suggests. But at the same time, players are people, and people cannot and do not perform at their highest emotional level all the time.

“We’ve obviously got a lot of work to do,” Thibodeau said when asked in general about what he saw. “Give up 30, score 21 (in the fourth quarter). Blow a 13-point lead. Turn the ball over like crazy.

Attributed to what?

“Not taking care of the ball.”

A lack of energy?

“We’ll have to look at the film.”

Unfamiliarity among some new players?

“We’ll have to look at the film.”

Issues about using different lineups since it’s preseason?

“We’re looking at everything.”

The start of the game?

“Some good, some bad. We had a lot of turnovers in the first quarter and a lot in the end. I want to see the film.”

On Pau in preseason overall?

“Some good, some bad. He’s finding his way. He’s learning his teammates. They’re learning him.”

On Derrick at this point?

“Some good, some bad. Started well. Obviously, we have to finish better.”

Did you say it was kidney stone?

Though it certainly was entertaining to see the open court play (more for the fans than Thibodeau, apparently), Rose’s fabulous speed and moves. Defensively, it wasn’t the same Bulls team, though the end of preseason isn’t quite the playoffs.

The Bulls didn’t have it to start and the Timberwolves pushed the pace to a 10-point lead and were ahead 35-31 after the first quarter with 62 percent shooting and five of seven threes. Going with Gasol and Noah, the interior help defense was hardly in midseason form. Though it’s difficult to fault Gasol, who not only is new but has been playing with a Noah working his way into the season. But Rose was again blindly fast to start with his shot looking pure, nice extension on the finish and good strength in his legs to aid his form. The Timberwolves Ricky Rubio showed an improved shot as well as he led Minnesota with 19 points. Prematurely declared draft bust Anthony Bennett was solid with 17 and Bulls botherer Thaddeus Young also had 17, most early hitting threes.

It’s become obvious it’s going to be an ongoing adjustment for Gasol playing with Noah and not so easy to solve quickly.

Noah barely touched the ball in the first half as the early plays went through Gasol, who wasn’t sharp this time and didn’t get good post position. With the offense starting through Gasol and then with Rose making plays, it’s falling on Noah to find his spots. He had a good second half, though Noah seemed to find himself in better spots when he was paired with Gibson. That’s hardly a surprise since they’ve played together so long. But with Gasol, Noah has to chase more and set up away from the basket more than he does playing with Gibson.

The reserve group Thibodeau has been using with Gibson, Brooks, McDermott, Nikola Mirotic and Tony Snell stayed about even with the Timberwolves in the second quarter, though it remained a group without much ball movement. McDermott recorded the most assists playing with them. The starters returned and Rose and Noah made several clever plays working together and Kirk Hinrich continued his good shooting with three of six threes. But the Timberwolves came back late to tie at 64.

With 128 points at half, 13 made threes and the teams combining to shoot better than 50 percent, it was more reminiscent of the old ABA Spirits of St. Louis with Bad Marvin Barnes, Fly Williams and Joe Caldwell.

Rose again bolted out after halftime like a thoroughbred with a driving basket by everyone, a left handed finish after Noah kept a miss alive, a floater, a three and a hanging drive for a score. The Bulls’ double digit lead seemed safe as the partisan Bulls crowd in Cardinals land, wearing red, seemed satisfied.

But it got away in the last six minutes as Thibodeau went back and forth trying Noah with Gibson, Gibson with Gasol and Gasol with Noah. Though it seems tough to have timing and communication on defense with all that going on. Presumably, the Bulls will hear about that in the four days before the opener.

“We’re getting there,” said Rose. “It’s still a work in progress. We know that we got talent. And we know that we can be a real good team. It’s just about consistent work and communicating while we’re on the floor. Offensively, I don’t think we have a problem. But defense, it’s just that we got to communicate a little bit better.”

So perhaps what we have here is a failure to communicate. Presumably the players will have a cool hand hearing plenty about it in the upcoming days.

There is no Next, a book by Sam Smith