Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Night in South Beach

Well that was unexpected. The Chicago Bulls handed the Miami Heat the worse loss ever suffered by the defending champs on opening night. The truth is that the 42 point beat down was about three times worse than any other champion has ever suffered to start the season. Many of us hoped the Bulls would be improved this year, maybe even a legitimate contender. Hopes are sure to be raised even higher now, but we know better than to read too much into one game -- even a game like this.

But we needn't ignore what we saw entirely. First, the Bulls got a great game from Kirk Hinrich. Hinrich finished with 26 points, 3 assists and 2 steals. He had 5 points, 2 assists, 2 rebounds and a steal as he led the Bulls to a 1st quarter lead. But the Bulls really blew the game open with a 35-12 second quarter run. Once again, Hinrich led the way. Hinrich had 10 points, and was the constant on the floor as Scott Skiles mixed and matched the pieces around him. With Hinrich playing the first nine minutes of the 2nd quarter, the Bulls turned a 4 point lead into a 22 point lead.

Also, we got a glimpse of who will be part of Skiles's rotation, at least to start the season. Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, PJ Brown and Ben Wallace started the game, and played well out of the gate, opening a seven point lead before Nocioni became the first guy off the bench. Chris Duhon and Tyrus Thomas also saw 1st quarter minutes. No one else played until Viktor Khryapa came on half way through the 2nd quarter. By then, the Bulls were up by 13. The same eight players played the entire 3rd quarter. While the bench emptied for garbage time, and garbage time lasted at least all of the 4th quarter, it appears that Skiles has an eight man rotation to start the year. Hinrich, Gordon and Duhon in the back court; Deng, Brown, Wallace, Nocioni and Thomas up front.

Thomas acquitted himself well in his first real NBA game. We all saw the highlight reel block on Shaq, but Sportscenter moments aside, Thomas was a big part of the Bulls' crippling 2nd quarter run. Playing more than half the quarter, Thomas had 2 points, 3 rebounds, an assist and the block. The Bulls were plus-10 during his run. Overall, Thomas finished plus-16 with 4 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks and a steal in 16 minutes. He has stat-stuffer potential, no doubt about it.

The Bulls' other rookie, Thabo Sefolosha, didn't really play until the 4th quarter. Once on the floor, however, he looked very good. His results need to be tempered by the circumstances, but he collected 11 points, 2 rebounds, 2 steals, and an assist in 10 minutes. His potential was most on display during one sequence where he stripped the ball, raced the length of the court, finished with a dunk, and completed a three-point play. If anyone played well enough to challenge for a spot in Skiles's main rotation, it was Sefolosha.

Obviously, it was just one game, and the data is even more suspect because of the circumstances in the 2nd half, but it would be hard to ask for a better start to the season. The Bulls continue tonight with the second half of a road back-to-back (seems an odd way to start the year). So, we should get to see if Skiles plans to remain consistent with the rotation he showed tonight. Also, we may get to see if that rotation remains the same in a competitive second half. Finally, hopefully, we'll get to see Gordon join the party, as he was the one Bull who really struggled last night. Completing a Florida sweep would definately be a great way to kick off a special season.


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