CHICAGO (670 The Score) – In their preseason opener Tuesday evening, the Bulls’ defense picked up right where it left off last season.
The Bulls fell 129-125 to the Pelicans at the United Center, where New Orleans raced out to a 15-point lead early on with a 40-point first quarter in which it shot 69.6%. That trend largely continued in the second quarter as the Pelicans went into halftime with a 70-53 lead and got to the rim with ease, compiling 32 points in the paint by the break.
“We’ve got a long way to go defensively,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “There’s no question about that.”
The Bulls’ biggest problem Tuesday in Donovan’s mind was their inability to defend the open-side pick-and-roll. Their defense in that regard was weak enough that executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas even noted during an in-game interview on NBC Sports Chicago that his players needed to get on the same page in their pick-and-roll coverages.
Early on in training camp, defense has been a point of emphasis for Donovan, who knows the task will be more difficult with starting point guard Lonzo Ball set to miss a significant portion of the season after left knee surgery.
“It’s a combination of our guards being able to physically blow up some of those screens,” Donovan said of what needs adjusted. “I think it’s a combination of our bigs with a better presentation. And in some of those open-side pick-and-rolls, there’s going to be times where that ball gets thrown into the pocket or it’s going to get put up in the air. And I thought our weak-side awareness, certainly in the first half, was not great on that action.”
The Bulls ranked 22nd in the NBA in defensive rating last season and didn’t make any personnel moves in the offseason to address deficiencies in that department. Which begs the question – how are they going to improve in any meaningful way on that end?
Whether the Bulls can answer that question may well be the difference between them taking the next step forward as they come off a 46-win campaign or having a disappointing season.
“We got to pick it up on that end,” star guard Zach LaVine said of the Bulls’ defense. “We know what our shortcomings are. So it’s just trying to fill those gaps, don’t try to jump too much into one preseason game. I’m that type of guy. We’ll watch the film. We’ll see if we can adjust. Now, if it keeps a pattern on and on, that’s when you start getting a little more concerned. Right now, I’m not concerned at all.
“I think it will iron itself out. I think we’ll be all right.”
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for 670TheScore.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.