The Chicago Bulls dream of an undefeated preseason came to a crashing halt Thursday night, losing to the Denver Nuggets 112-94. Chicago got off to a sloppy and rather sluggish start to the game, but as the first quarter wore on they started to find a rhythm. Nikola Mirotic scored seven of the Bulls first 10 points, and Jimmy Butler continued his aggressive playmaking ways. The Bulls ended the first quarter with a one point lead, 21-20, but as the second quarter got underway things unraveled in a flurry.
Kirk Hinrich returned to action as the third point guard in the rotation, starting the second quarter. Now, I'm not saying it was entirely his fault, but the Nuggets proceeded to go on a 20-3 run. Just saying. He played much of the quarter along with Cameron Bairstow and Bobby Portis, and Denver continued to lay the wood sort to speak, outscoring the Bulls in the second quarter by a whopping 37-13 margin.
Overall the second quarter was a complete dumpster fire and decidedly ended the game early. Defensively there was no communication, and the rotations were porous as Denver was clicking on all cylinders, scoring at will at the rim and from the outside. On the opposite end meanwhile, the ball movement and passing that we saw Tuesday night had dissipated as one on one play and forced jump shots marred much of the offense.
The second half came and went with Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler taking the rest of the night off as the summer Bulls took over. Mirotic finished the game as the leading scorer with 18 points on 8-15 shooting to go along with four boards and two steals. Doug McDermott continued off a strong second half Tuesday, ending with 15 points on 5-10 shooting, 2-4(!) from deep, with four boards and two assists. The Bulls shot a collective, 34.4% from the field, 37.5% from deep, losing the turnover battle 22-12.
Other quick observations:
- At the beginning of the game we saw the Bulls initiate the offense through multiple dribble handoffs, and weave action. In addition there were also instances of a double drag screen being set in the secondary break giving us more of a glimpse of Hoiberg's offense. That being said, given the injuries and rest of various key players, it seems as though Hoiberg is letting the guys play freely right now, reading and reacting. As of yet, we haven't seen much if any of Hoiberg's full offensive arsenal.
- Through the first two preseason games, while the Bulls have shot an OK 35% from deep, they've been poor from the field clocking in at 33.9%. For the most part, they've generated some decent looks, but have had trouble converting.
- As KC Johnson of the Chicago Tribune noted, it's appears as though E'Twaun Moore has or will eventually supplant himself as the Bulls backup point guard over Aaron Brooks and Hinrich. Whether it's good or bad, I'll let you decide.
- Niko and McDermott had solid overall efforts Thursday night. McDermott specifically looked to be more comfortable offensively, and was far more passable defensively than the other night. Both look to be finding their rhthym in Hoiberg's offense, let's hope that progress keeps trending upward.
- Tony Snell has not looked good through the Bulls first two preseason games. Many, including myself expect or at least hope for a leap from Snell in his play. However, he's looked passive on offensive and really unsure of what to do. For now, I'm going to just pass this off as Snell trying to find a rhthym and comfortability within Hoiberg's offense. I'm not pushing the panic button just yet, but McDermott is slowly but surely, creeping towards that starting gig.
The Bulls next game is Saturday night at 7pm, in Minnesota against a very young and athletic Timberwolves team.