The Bulls and Cavs square off tonight down at the Assembly Hall in Champaign, where I used to spend many a night in an alcohol induced haze screaming obscenities at Bruce Weber and his band of usually underachieving misfits. [ed. note: me too! -yfbb]
But that's neither here nor there. The Bulls will continue to attempt to break in their new-look roster in exhibition numero dos, a task that encountered some pitfalls in the preseason opener against the Grizzlies. There are a couple of main things I'll be looking for tonight:
Hinrich vs. Irving
Kirk Hinrich was a very pleasant surprise against the Grizz, running the offense effectively to the tune of seven assists and also playing stellar defense. He struggled with his shot, but he made up for it by pushing the pace and putting other guys in good position to score. And defensively, he pestered the Grizzlies all night long with solid ball pressure, forcing turnovers that led to easy buckets on the other end.
But one caveat in that solid performance was the fact that Grizzlies starting point guard Mike Conley didn't play. And while Jerryd Bayless is a talented youngster (and somebody I wanted the Bulls to pursue this offseason), he's not Conley, especially when it comes to running the point.
A much bigger test for Hinrich comes tonight against 2011 Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving. The former Dookie is fully healthy after breaking his hand in the summer, and he will give Kirk all he can handle. You may be able to get away with putting more ball pressure on a guy like Bayless, but that could turn into disaster if you're not careful against Irving. And who knows if Hinrich can get anything going against Irving on the offensive end.
I'm certainly not looking for Hinrich to outplay Irving, because that would be ridiculous. I'd simply be happy with Kirk playing decently and not getting his doors blown off.
Better bench play
The first game for the new bench was a VERY mixed bag. There was some good, but also a whole lot of bad. Going 1-21 in the fourth quarter and almost blowing a lead to a group of fringe NBA players is never a good look. But that's what we got against the Grizzlies.
However, I'm certainly not overreacting to just one bad performance. It takes time for a bunch of new guys to get used to playing with one another. I would expect to see improvements each game this preseason, at least I would hope.
I want to see Marco Belinelli actually make some shots. I want to see Jimmy Butler play more within himself. Butler was way too wild in that first game. 1-11 from the field? Yuck. I want to see Taj Gibson finish better around the rim and not fumble the ball like his old teammate Omer Asik. And lastly, I want to see Nazr Mohammed...do exactly what he did against the Grizzlies. Seriously, who woulda thunk that old man Mohammed would be the star of the bench in that first game? I sure didn't.
Will the uptempo game continue?
The Bulls, led by Hinrich, did a marvelous job against the Grizzlies pushing the ball and getting out in transition. With the halfcourt offense often stagnant and jumpers not falling, the Bulls stayed in the game and ultimately took control by scoring on the break. They outscored the Grizzlies 32-15 on the night in fast break points.
Matt and I have both said that the Bulls need to run more just because there will likely be plenty of nights where the halfcourt offense sucks. Whether that occurs over the course of the season remains to be seen, but I suspect we'll see a similar strategy tonight. The Cavs haven't given up too many fast break points so far this preseason, but they also haven't scored many of their own either. It could be dangerous to get in a track meet against a guy like Irving, but it's not like the Cavs have a bunch of other guys that will kill you in transition.
There are a couple of other things I will be on the lookout for tonight. Will Luol Deng play well again? Can Carlos Boozer not suck eggs? What kind of player is Cavs rookie Dion Waiters? But mostly, I want to see those three things I highlighted above, no injuries and finally, no stories about Joakim Noah getting freaky with college co-eds at KAMS.