It was the first day of the rest of the Bulls lives Friday in Lincoln, Nebraska.
The Bulls closed the preseason with a 103-102 victory over the Dallas Mavericks in the first game of their preseason.
Derrick Rose was back playing for the first time, flying down the lanes, and thus all seemed, if not perfect, much better for the Bulls and time to start again.
"Our pace was as good as it's been all preseason when Derrick got in there," said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, who has essentially been pleading with the Bulls to push the action, run and shoot.
As if you needed to tell NBA players.
But these young men have not done much of that for five years, and it's been a series of stops and starts, the Bulls pace in the preseason even still near the bottom of the league. But that all changed Friday in a blur of 10 minutes with Rose out there for the first time after orbital surgery earlier this month. Rose played 10 minutes, all in the first half. But he blazed a path to the basket for three layups, inciting and exciting a Bulls offense that aims for greater heights.
"In turn," said Hoiberg, "the other guys were running with him. It was great to see him back in uniform. I think this will benefit him greatly, for him to go out there and have some success is huge for him leading into (opening night) Tuesday night.
"If we can get it down with pace and even swing it around the perimeter and then into Pau with time, even if he doesn't have a lane to the basket we still have time to make a play," said Hoiberg. "That's what Derrick can do by getting out. Our wings were better running, we threw ahead a couple of times, which was huge. Derrick with the ball in his hands, these guys better run with him because he' s coming."
And it looks very promising for Rose to open the season where the Bulls expected him to be, at point guard leading a dynamic attack.
"I don't want to say," Rose said with a smile about the opener against Cleveland Tuesday. "I don't want to jinx myself, but it's improving every day. It looks like it's a go for me."
Beep, beep; get ready for the road runners.
The game had a dramatic ending as home state favorite Doug McDermott from nearby Creighton U., suffering through a brutal shooting game in missing his first seven shots, came out of a timeout with five seconds left and the Bulls trailing by a point and made a 15 foot fadeaway to win the game.
It enabled the Bulls to square their post season record at 4-4 and send the more than 15,000 home happy for their favorite. Dallas ended 0-7.
"About time I made one," quipped McDermott, who had a few dozen family and friends in for the event.
McDermott finished two of 10 for five points. Taj Gibson with another exuberant effort led the Bulls with 16 points. Nikola Mirotic and Tony Snell each had 14 and Joakim Noah had 11 points and nine rebounds. Noah and Gibson again energized the team with their defense, especially in the second half as the regular season rotation seems set for now with Pau Gasol and Mirotic in the front court and Noah and Gibson backing them up. Bobby Portis played nine minutes and had five points and four rebounds as he makes things happen when he enters the game. Though it will be difficult to find much playing time for him, at least early in the season.
But the backcourt of Rose and Jimmy Butler finally is ready again, and Hoiberg is enthused even as Butler had four points on two of seven shooting and shot just 33 percent in the eight games and 13 percent on threes.
"I think once Tuesday night comes you are going to see the Jimmy Butler we saw in that first preseason game, that first week of training camp, being more aggressive, looking for his own shot," said Hoiberg. "I think Derrick being out there with him…,I think those two can be terrific all year long."
And it was a promising sign Friday as Rose stepped in as if he hadn't missed a day. He found driving lanes he said were like interstates with Hoiberg's spread offensive game, showed no hesitation and comfortably hit his first perimeter jumper. Rose was four of six, but one shot was a 75 footer to end the first half. Hoiberg initially planned to play Rose one stint in each half. But he decided he didn't want to put Rose out after a halftime break. So he played Rose in two first half rotations. Kirk Hinrich started and Rose came in with 7:30 remaining in the first quarter and the Bulls leading 12-8. They stretched that out to 28-19 when Rose left and led 32-28 after the first quarter.
Rose came in with 4:42 left in the second quarter after the Bulls had fallen behind 45-37 and finished the half with the Bulls trailing 53-49.
The second half was a tug and pull of runs with Dallas playing some rookies, though Wes Matthews made an impressive early comeback from Achilles surgery with seven points in 15 minutes. Dirk Nowitzki led Dallas with 19 points.
The Bulls trailed most of the third quarter as Dwight Powell had 10 of his 14 points and the Bulls shot six of 24. But Gibson and Noah were dynamic in the fourth quarter. It looked over when Snell made a three with 1:03 left for a 105-99 lead. Snell was more aggressive seeking out his shot and going to the basket for the second straight game. He seems to have the starting small forward spot for now and has been defending point guards with some success in recent games. But Snell threw the ball away with 18.9 seconds left and John Jenkins made a three to set up McDermott's sentimental winner.
"Happy for Doug hitting the game winner," said Rose. "Even when he was missing shots the team kept encouraging him to take shots because they were good shots, his shots he usually takes. They just weren't going down; that's how basketball is sometimes."
Rose knows well the vagaries of the game.
"I felt good," Rose said. "I just wanted to come out, get a feel for the offense. I loved the way coach designed everything, the way the offense is run. They've got me running down hill every time I catch the ball and I'm catching the ball with a live dribble.
"He asked me to play yesterday," said Rose of Hoiberg. "For him to ask me it must mean he loved the way I was playing in practice. With this offense it's a lot of openings and gaps. With the way we shoot the ball and the freedom we have to shoot the ball, it's like you can't help off anyone; if someone has it going we're to keep feeding them. We're going to play off matchups. We've got to do that a little bit more and get people the ball a little more, like when Jimmy had a couple of post ups when he had (J.J.) Barea on him a couple of times and we missed him. That's all about reading the game and reading who is out there, giving the ball to the right person.
"There are a lot more (driving) lanes," enthused Rose. "It's so many opportunities to drive or so many opportunities to shoot my mid range even in transition; it's open. I've just got to get used to playing this way. I know that might sound crazy, but playing in a (deliberate) system for three or four years kind of got me out of my rhythm.
"Whenever I see lanes I'm driving," said Rose. "As soon as I step up, I'm hitting whoever is open and just trying to play basketball. I love the way the offense is. Coming down we're not thinking about what we are running. Coming down, start with a pick and roll and then that pick and roll opens up everything else.
"I thought I was just going to come out and facilitate the game," said Rose. "But I saw openings and I got all the way to the basket. So I can take this and put it in the bank. It's very encouraging. It's scary for my confidence right now. The last thing I need is any more confidence.
I'm going to take this and run with it."
Ready, set, go. It seems like the Bulls are prepared for the race.