The Bulls Monday lost 108-104 in overtime to the Charlotte Hornets, a relatively insignificant outcome given that both teams finished the game with lineups that included D-league and European prospects.
But even if Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg remained inscrutable regarding his plans, it seems virtually certain now that Monday’s starting lineup of Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo, Robin Lopez, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson will be together next week on opening night.
“I like that (starting) group,” said Butler, who led the Bulls with 15 points. “I’m not saying no one can start in place of anyone else, but when you look at how guys are putting the ball in the basket, facilitating, rebounding and guarding, switching, all that stuff, there are a lot of good things we can do with the group we had out there.
“I think whenever you put good basketball players on the floor they find a way to make things work, make things happen,” said Butler. “Everyone in that starting lineup has been around for so long. Even if we haven’t been on the same team, we know each others’ games pretty well. I study everybody even when we are opponents. So you know everyone’s tendencies. So now when you are on the same team, it kind of makes it easier to know what you have and where they will be on the floor. I think that group that started tonight, we all know each other.”
Gibson, who basically had the only real positional contest, seems to have clinched that power forward role with yet another excellent game, 10 points and six rebounds in 17 minutes and again a team leading plus/minus rating. Plus, Nikola Mirotic again was misfiring, zero for four and now seven for 29 on threes in the preseason. Mirotic then suffered a strained lower back in the second half and sat out. It’s likely Mirotic could miss at least some practice time.
“I was trying to defend a pick and roll and (he was) coming up late behind me and pushed me to guard and my back went,” said Mirotic. “I felt a sharp pain and I couldn’t move well left and right. I will take some pills tonight, ice and hopefully feel better tomorrow. I have had some small problems with my lower back and hopefully it is not a big deal. Day to day.“ Denzel Valentine is close to a return from a sprained ankle.
The Bulls, 3-3, have one preseason game remaining, Thursday in Omaha, Neb in the McDermott/Korver Three-point Shooting Bowl. Hoiberg said he will try to play it as close as possible to a regular season game.
Though one element Hoiberg said needs cleaning up is not so much the starters, but the way the starters, at least, start. They’ve been good their second time out to open the third quarter, but after a frisky offensive opening from Robin Lopez with eight quick points, the Bulls fell behind by 14 and trailing 32-20 after one quarter.
With a group that included McDermott, Gibson, Butler and Cristiano Felicio, they rallied late in the second quarter and trailed 58-55 at halftime. Then the starters with later support from Isaiah Canaan took an eight-point lead before trailing 78-77 after three with liberal substituting. The Bulls played their reserves in the fourth quarter while Charlotte closed with starters. Jerian Grant made a three with 10.9 seconds left to send the game into overtime. Reserves for both teams closed out the Charlotte win in overtime./p>
McDermott had 14 points and Canaan and Grant added 12 points each. Wade had 11 points and four of the Bulls 14 blocks while Rondo had 10 assists and zero turnovers.
Chicago White Sox fan Frank Kaminsky of the Hornets, wearing a Bartman jersey to the game, led Charlotte with 14 points along with former Bull Marco Belinelli.
“We’ve dug ourselves a hole in the first quarters the last several games,” said Hoiberg. “I’ve had to call the timeouts to gets us going. We talked about it in the post game locker room. We have to quit digging a hole. I like our fight, our resolve, like how we’re getting back in games. But it would be nice to play a complete game. Early on, I thought we defended them OK, but we were fouling 90 feet from the basket. Of six games, we’ve played five of them where we’ve given up 30 points or more in the first quarter. And then we guarded pretty well, especially in the second halves. So we’ve got to be much better team getting out of the gate.”
Hoiberg did have praise for Gibson and Lopez.
“Taj was good again tonight,” said Hoiberg. “I thought he was very efficient and productive; would like to have seen Niko out there more. The other night in Milwaukee he had a tough first half and then responded well with probably his best half of the preseason. What this is about is continuing to evaluate and see what lineup we like best on opening night. Lopez has been terrific the last two games. I’ve been really pleased with his effort. I thought he was the one in the second half the other day who was kind of the glue guy, in the paint, blocking shots; tonight, I thought he got us off to a good (early) start and was very active.”
The first potential controversy of this peaceful preseason was avoided when new acquisition Michael Carter-Williams said after the game he would wear No. 7 for the Bulls. Clearly unaware that Derrick Rose had worn No. 1, Carter-Williams before the game explained to reporters he had picked No. 1 because he wore that number in college and when he was Rookie of the Year with the 76ers.
Then apparently realizing some fans resented him taking the number, albeit inadvertently, Carter-Williams sent out a tweet during the game that wearing No. 1 was not certain. Then he told Comcast as he was leaving the arena he had decided to change to No. 7, previously worn by among others, Toni Kukoc, Ben Gordon, Billy McKinney and Scott May. There was no immediate outcry, though it was overnight in Croatia.
“I like the kid,” said Butler about Carter-Williams. “He’s talented. He can score in the mid post and really pass; he’s tall and he can guard. He’s going to be factor on this team.”
Asked about Integer-gate, Butler said: “Why would I say anything about the number the kid wants? Let him have what number he wants. If he wants No. 21 (Butler’s number), he can have No. 21. I just want him to be happy. If he wanted No. 23, I would be like, ‘I don’t think you can have that one.’”
Yes, when a month of training camp comes down to whether Taj starts or not, well, that’s what happens.