I guess it all depends if you believe in moral victories. The Bulls played hard, yet lost both games this past weekend. The season opener was at home against the now-lowly Nets. After going down by 30 in the first half, I was ready to end the suffering and jump from my 200-level seat to certain death. I suppose a lot of that awful half can be attributed to the rookies' first night jitters in the house that Jordan built. The near-sellout (although there were many no shows) crowd brought out the boos early, and my only satisfaction for that half was heckling Ron Mercer while he clanked every mid-range jumper he could muster. Lord, I hate Ron Mercer. The Bulls led a monumental comeback though and had a great chance to win but squandered the lead in regulation after missed free-throws down the stretch. By the time it was double-OT, they simply looked too tired to fight any longer.
After this long and trying game, I had already penciled in a loss the next night at Indiana. To my surprise the team held tough, but their small lineup had to play zone and they wound up getting shot out of the game single-handedly by Fred Jones (4-7 3ptm-a) in the 2nd half.
It's hard to gauge what to learn from these two games because Eddy Curry and Antonio Davis were out with suspensions. Without these two, the Bulls primarily played with a small lineup, limiting Tyson Chandler's minutes (and effectiveness) and having Othella Harrington and Andres Nocioni match up with opposing centers on occasion. On offense they were completely perimeter-oriented, unloading plenty of 3-pointers (12-34 on Friday, 5-18 on Saturday) with only the aforementioned Harrington providing any low-post scoring. With Curry and Davis back, the team gets much bigger and it'll give us a better idea of what kind of offense will be run. While the small, scrappy lineup did keep them in games, their weaknesses will keep them from winning many if they play them too much.
I suppose it can be said that this year's team has shown more effort than the team that lost by 25 to the Wizards to open last season. And that has to please Skiles and Paxson, as that was the attitude change they were seeking in this massive roster turnover. Additionally, the rookies got enough minutes where you can see the potential. For one, Luol Deng is an immediate contributor. He has to be the early favorite for ROY after his 2-game line of 18pts, 10reb (Friday) and 25,5 (Saturday). He is a better rebounder than I thought, and has obviously worked on his shooting to the point where he doesn't even hesitate when open. Nocioni hasn't shot the ball similarly well, but you can see the other things he brings to the court. Like many have predicted, his style of play is sure to make a lot of opponents angry, and he got to (crazy) Ron Artest and Alonzo Mourning pretty easily without getting himself into that much foul trouble. Even the maligned-in-preseason Ben Gordon rebounded from an awful opener (0-6!) to provide some of his advertised scoring prowess against Indy (6-14, 17 points in 28 minutes). Apparently he had been chewed out by Skiles, it'll be interesting to see if his response was a brief glimpse or will carry over to their next games.
But like I said, with the return of Curry and Davis (unless one of My Man Sam's(TM) weekly Curry rumors come true), the entire offense will change to incorporate the inside game. I also think that while Chandler has not played well he will also benefit from Curry's return so it will move him back to PF and allow him to be a help defender and contribute offensively with putbacks and dunks (although Tyson's jumper *does* look better, which should help his game if he can shoot it consistently enough to get defenders to respect it. ).
At the very least, the Bulls look hungrier, smarter, and more talented than
last year. However starting out 0-2 makes these next two games (Tuesday against
the ass-beating Phoenix Suns, Friday against the Clips) very important as to not
be winless before going on the Annual Circus Trip of Death(TM). So that's what I
learned this weekend, how about you guys?