Dwyane Wade Monday was hearing “Chicago,” but perhaps he was thinking Cleveland and you know who.
“Great to get out there in front of the fans for my first game, for me to be here my first moment getting in that starting lineup being called, ‘Here from Chicago, Illinois;’ that felt great,” said Wade after his first game in a Bulls jersey, a 93-91 preseason loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. “Overall good for us. There were a lot of things that the coaches can teach us and we will learn.”
Like moving and handling the ball better, eight first quarter turnovers and a whopping 22 for the game erasing an early 14-3 Bulls lead as the Bucks hung on down the stretch with reserves playing for both teams. But when Wade considered the miscues, consciously or not, he mentioned the defending champion Cavaliers.
“Just aggressive turnovers,” said Wade, who played just under 12 minutes with six points, all on two of three three pointers. “Lot of them offensive rebounds, bigs putting it down; they come to strip it. Some post feeds, some jumping in the air. Just basic turnovers you have early in the preseason when you have a lot of new guys. Teams like Cleveland won’t have that many because they have continuity. We are trying to get that continuity. You’ve got unselfish guys. I’d rather have 25 turnovers than no one passing the ball to each other, everyone going one on one. So we’ll take it.”
No one is saying it, but the Cavs–Wade now sharing a division with LeBron–are the target. And Wade was noting, in effect, that the Bulls have their work cut out for them with so many new players unaccustomed to playing with one another.
It was apparent in even that first good stretch with the presumptive starting group playing together. The Bulls were energetic and active, swarming and outplaying the Bucks. But the Bulls committed four turnovers in the first four and a half minutes even as they were dominating the Bucks starters early.
They were getting late into the shot clock, seemingly overpassing as no one apparently wanted to look too selfish. Rajon Rondo, who finished with two points, six rebounds, seven assists and five turnovers in 24 minutes, was trying to ignite a fast break and throwing ahead. But teammates weren’t always ready for the passes.
Jimmy Butler with 13 points in 15 minutes was the most proficient scorer, though mostly with his physical attacks to the basket as he shot eight of nine free throws. Doug McDermott also had 13 points, though he was scoreless in nine first half minutes and had most of his points late in the game, though it was competitive down the stretch.
The Bulls were actually trailing by 15 points with nine minutes left when a group of McDermott, Bobby Portis, Spencer Dinwiddie, Tony Snell and Cristiano Felicio hustled their way to an 89-87 lead on a McDermott finger roll with 2:41 left. But Michael Carter-Williams got a couple of key offensive rebounds that led to scores. Felicio then missed a pair of free throws with 3.4 seconds left that could have tied the game.
“We got sloppy and had some unforced turnovers that got them back in the game,” said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. “We had a nice double digit lead out of the gate. I thought our energy was terrific early on, but those turnovers kill you and the second half giving up 11 offensive rebounds, two crucial ones the last couple of minutes gave the lead back to Milwaukee. Lot of teaching moments; first step in a long journey.”
Taj Gibson got the start at power forward and was most impressive along with Butler. Gibson had 11 points and 12 rebounds in 22 minutes with the team’s best plus/minus rating. The coaches likely have been hoping Nikola Mirotic, who was one of seven for two points, could win that forward job with shooting to stretch the court. But Gibson’s energy and rebounding help for Robin Lopez may prove too valuable to have him coming off the bench.
“Taj played with great energy,” agreed Hoiberg. “He got offensive rebounds, got us second chance points. He’s knocking down his mid range jump shot now; he’s doing a good job on the offensive glass.”
Lopez had just three rebounds in 20 minutes. But with eight points he showed a nice mid range jump shot and an ability to shoot the jumper as the big man trailer on the break. Lopez did have three blocks with good help defense. He looks like a stable presence, though Gibson’s rebounding support seemed vital.
Rookie Denzel Valentine looked, not surprisingly, like the most adept backup guard ball handler. However, he sustained a sprained ankle in the second half after playing 11 minutes. He left the game for treatment. He said afterward the sprain was mild, but he’d probably miss three or four days and wanted to be close to fully recovered before returning and risking overcompensating.
Though Mirotic didn’t shoot well, Hoiberg said it was an aberration and that Mirotic and McDermott were shooting the best in training camp. Wade and Butler were three of three from long range. The rest of the team was two of 16. Portis had nine rebounds in 26 minutes, but stumbled on defense while Jerian Grant had some difficulties handling the ball as the Bucks pressed him constantly. Tony Snell with 10 points in 17 minutes was more aggressive.
The Bucks were led by Greg Monroe with 15 points and Jabari Parker with 13.
But while new is fun, new also is hard.
It was apparent in the turnovers, the late shot clocks, the backs turned on defense and rebounding, the turnovers. The puzzle looks like a picture when the pieces fit, but matching them up isn’t that simple with so many rough edges. Wade understands that his buddy in Cleveland can parachute out of preseason and hit the regular season ground running because they basically return the same players. The Bulls still will be working on the individual idiosyncrasies and patterns. It could be a rocky start with the hope of a smooth landing.
“We need to get into our offense quicker,” said Wade. “I felt a few times we got late in the shot clock when the ball was swinging around the perimeter, but those are the things we can correct. I thought we came out very strong; we had an early lead, 16-4 or whatever; from there we started doing subs and it got mismatched. We made shots, moved the ball around, got out in transition a little bit. I thought we did (well) the first few minutes of the game.
“You are trying to get to know your teammates,” agreed Wade. “Get to what your coach wants, things you’ve been working on. You have a team we played against that is very aggressive; they go for a lot of steals. I had a lot of time to reflect on (that) I was going to have to put on a different uniform. When you are on the court with basketball you are not looking down at the jersey at all; more so trying to do what I can. Like I said, I closed the chapter and I’m in this new chapter and I’m looking forward to how this new chapter is going.”
The story still remains elsewhere in the division. Wade hopes to write a different ending with his new teammates.