"It starts again," said Rose on Sunday. "Just knowing there are no days off, that it’s a grind; it’s exciting. We know it’s going to be a long season and it should be fun."
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Bulls nimble and capable as preseason begins

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By Sam Smith | 10.05.2014 | 5:50 p.m. CT | asksam@bulls.com | @SamSmithHoops

A bit more than five months ago, it was a mournful group of Bulls players, trudging off the United Center court, heads down, hearts sunk, spirits disheveled following a ruinous loss to the Washington Wizards that knocked the Bulls out of the playoffs.

It’s not a totally different group, but it’s a new sporting life force.

“Excited, yeah. Yeah, I’m excited about just playing basketball,” said Derrick Rose, making his first appearance in an NBA game since his knee injury last Nov. 22. “It starts again. Just knowing there are no days off, that it’s a grind; it’s exciting. We know it’s going to be a long season and it should be fun.

“I’ve been doing a great job of pacing the game and pacing myself,” said Rose. “Knowing when to score, knowing when to shoot and getting guys into better rhythm. When you have somebody like Pau (Gasol), you can just let him start off the offense right away from the beginning of games and dictate how the game is going to go and how they’re going to play him. It kind of lets everybody get easy shots.

“When you get someone as talented as he is, he could (dictate) games by himself,” Rose said of Gasol. “Especially by how we’ve been conditioning and running up the floor. Thibs actually put 10 minutes up and we ran the plays for that. So he’s going to be in some shape. It’s only about staying healthy. If we keep him healthy, we know we can have a good year. It’s all about being healthy. We’ve been playing kind of fast. Pau and Jo (Noah) don’t care if me, Jimmy (Butler) or Dun (Mike Dunleavy) push the ball. They just run behind us and don’t complain about touches. Pau, we have to force him to shoot the ball. When you have him and Jo passing the ball like they do and Jimmy cutting and getting in lanes and me pushing the ball, we have a dangerous team.”

Well, they’re all dangerous before any actual games are played.

But this appears to be a nimble and capable Bulls team coming into the preseason games after a positive first week of practice.

It seems everyone has come through healthy and is anxious to go against someone else, even if the results don’t much matter. Though the Bulls did sweep their preseason last year and have won 12 straight in the preseason. And it is the Wizards, who upset the Bulls in last spring’s opening round.

“We haven’t thought about that,” said Rose. “It hasn’t come up yet. That’s something that I think a lot of people didn’t forget about, something still in the back of peoples’ minds. Tomorrow we should be charged.”

But no, it’s not about revenge quite yet.

Even Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau seems to be easing off to open the preseason.

Of course, who wants to acknowledge the pressure of a league best 12-game preseason winning streak?

“You start off the preseason, you probably have two or three, seven or eight-minute segments (for rotations),” Thibodeau said about plans for Monday’s game (7:00 p.m. CT on CSN Chicago).

Predictably, Thibodeau was circumspect about starters even though Noah, Gasol, Dunleavy, Rose and Butler have basically started every scrimmage together. Though given Noah is coming off knee surgery, there always is the possibility of playing time limitations for him as he sat out much of last year’s preseason. Thibodeau said limitations have not been discussed yet and after what Thibodeau said was a poor practice Sunday, the players suggested they were in for a serious shootaround Monday morning.

“Once you start playing the games you learn more,” said Thibodeau as the Bulls open with a back-to-back with Tuesday in Detroit (area). “We have a pretty good idea of what our baseline is now. And then the games will continue to tell us where we are. Then you want to continue to build. I think most teams this time of the year, you see a lot of guys and that’s normal. You’re trying to get a look at your young guys to see where they are. You want your vets to get a little bit of work so they can start building their rhythm together as a team. All those things are important.

“Preseason, it’s hard to make judgments because most teams are playing 12 guys, 10 guys, and then once you get to the regular season you’re looking at eight or nine guys again. So you’re also looking at game planning and things like that, looking at a different intensity level,” said Thibodeau. “You can see he’s (Rose) starting to get more comfortable. And again when you’re out there competing against someone, it’s different than just being in a gym by yourself. That’s probably been the biggest adjustment.

“(The Wizards are) a very talented team,” said Thibodeau. “They added [Paul] Pierce. They’re experienced, their backcourt is very dynamic. You can’t overlook the quality of their bigs up front. We know how good they are. This is the beginning, so it will reveal exactly where we are.’’

Not completely, though there is considerable anticipation given the return of Rose once again. There’s also the addition of one of the top free agents in team history, Gasol. There’s Butler being asked to become that reliable scoring wing player. There are the much anticipated rookies, Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic, and the impressive depth with a former league Most Improved off the bench as fourth guard.

It also should be a Bulls offense with more variety than perhaps any time in Thibodeau’s tenure with a seven foot offensive low post threat in Gasol combined with the athletic backcourt of Rose and Butler and perimeter shooting from McDermott and Mirotic. The Bulls have been a slow, low scoring team the last two seasons for obvious reasons with the absence of Rose. But Rose says that will change.

“You won’t have to worry about that,” Rose said of deliberate play. “It depends on the game. I think we can play both sides of that game. Regular season, we can push it. Playoff basketball, we can walk it up, run the set and execute. We’ve got veteran guys on this team and it just takes patience on the offensive end. That’s what we’re learning in camp. But the first five, we’re so great defensively. I think right now it’s kind of scary. We’re in midseason form defensively with the first five.

“Joakim will definitely have to look to score,” said Rose. “Thibs has been putting an emphasis on making sure guys are shooting. Jo, we have to force him to score. Pau, you can tell he’s been scoring ever since he was younger. Jo, he was just a rebounder and energy guy and we forced him to shoot the last couple of years. If anything, I think Pau is going to help Jo’s game out a lot.

“I think I’ve been playing good,” added Rose. “I think actually the way Thibs has been making us run, getting that wind a little more, getting my second wind has been different this year. He’s been making us run a lot more sets with the time running. And we get a lot more plays called (in advance). We haven’t put in that many plays; it’s more like a reaction type offense. You just read what’s going on and follow what you have to do. It might be different this year, but we’re going to look in the post more.

“As far as my game, I think I’m fine,” Rose said. “My nerves have calmed down a little bit more. It will just take game time playing. Push the ball. If they give me an open shot, take the shot. Read the game and see what the game is telling me. I think when I was trying to force things (last year), it made me look bad. So this time just letting the game come to me a little bit more.

“What I went through last year (in his return from surgery) and having a better team, if anything, it should help with my game,” said Rose. ”We can play through Pau in the post. So I don’t have to worry about starting off games the way I used to in the past. Just playing, getting used to running up and down.

”This is my seventh year,” noted Rose, who turned 26 Saturday. “This is the most film I’ve ever watched. The game is just coming to me, slowed down a little more. I know all the plays sets. Like I said, being a student of the game, looking at the game and knowing what’s coming my way; definitely (also) on the defensive end. It’s been smooth.”

And Monday this return seems so much more natural.