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Friday, November 09, 2007

Bulls Idle Pistons to Capture Their First Win of the Season

Tyrus Thomas had a team-high 19 points and a career-high 14 rebounds as the Chicago Bulls beat the Detroit Pistons 97-93 to claim their first win of the season. Luol Deng added 17 points, while Kirk Hinrich shot poorly from the field (eight points on 3-11 shooting) but had a game-high 14 assists. Rasheed Wallace had a game-high 36 points, his most as a Piston and just six off of his career-high; he also tied Antonio McDyess with a team-high nine rebounds. The plus/minus stats told an interesting story, as journeyman Bulls forward had a game-high +10 mark. Coach Scott Skiles has said that Smith has been the team's most valuable player so far--admittedly not much of a distinction on a team that was 0-4 prior to this game--and Smith contributed 13 points and four rebounds, shooting 6-11 from the field. On the other hand, Bulls starting center Ben Wallace had a team-worst -8 plus/minus number; he finished with six points and seven rebounds in 25 minutes and did not play at all in the fourth quarter.

The Bulls outscored the Pistons 42-26 in the paint and outrebounded them 47-36. Those numbers tell part of the story of perhaps the most interesting subplot from this game, the battle between Chicago's young frontcourt players (Thomas, Luol Deng, Andres Nocioni, Joakim Noah)--with the aforementioned help from the veteran Smith and some early contributions from Ben Wallace--versus Detroit's veteran frontcourt of Rasheed Wallace, Antonio McDyess and Tayshaun Prince. Detroit did not re-sign Chris Webber, so Rasheed Wallace has shifted from forward to center this year, while McDyess has moved from being a reserve to taking Wallace's starting forward spot; both players rely more now on their wiles than their athleticism, which provided an intriguing contrast with Thomas and Noah, who are long on energy and hustle but short on experience. Detroit will have a good regular season record this year just based on muscle memory alone because the team has several current or former All-Stars but it is hard to understand why people seem to think that this team is better equipped to advance to the Finals than the last couple Detroit squads that fell short of that goal. Chicago matches up very well with this team, Cleveland beat Detroit four straight times in last year's playoffs and Boston has obviously looked very strong in the early going.

TNT's Charles Barkley and other analysts keep harping on the theme that the problem with the Bulls is that they rely too much on the jump shot but I don't think that is entirely correct. It is true that the Bulls do not have a stud postup player but when they are running their offense crisply they get a lot of dribble penetration to the hoop, leading either to layups or to open jumpers when the defense reacts to the dribbler. All good offenses attack the paint; having a great postup player is certainly a good way to do so, but relentless drive and kick dribble penetration can also be effective. As noted above, the Bulls owned a decisive advantage in points in the paint in this game even though they very seldom ran their offense through a post player.

The Bulls' slow start has attracted a lot of attention, partially because there were some high expectations for this team and partially because the Bulls have been mentioned prominently in trade rumors about Kobe Bryant. Chicago has been a slow starting team for the past several years and there is no reason to think that the Bulls will not have 50 or so wins by the end of the season. That is not to say that the early losses were not important--Chicago finished one game behind Cleveland last year and got a much tougher playoff seeding, so every game obviously can turn out to be vital by season's end--but every NBA team goes through a lull at some point; the Bulls just tend to go through theirs early.

There is always a lot of overreaction at the start of each NBA season but the only way to gauge if a team is really going to be as good or as bad as its early record suggests is to actually watch the team play and try to figure out why it is winning or losing more than people expected. Some teams start out with more difficult schedules or with a key player or two missing and those kinds of things even out over the course of the season. Other teams are, in Dennis Green's already immortal words, who we thought they were--San Antonio, Dallas, Houston are going to be good, while Portland, Minnesota, Seattle are going to struggle. Chicago and Detroit, as this game suggested, are very evenly matched and will both easily be Eastern Conference playoff teams, despite the sky is falling rhetoric that has been coming out of the Windy City in recent days.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:24 AM

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