Heading into Indiana expecting the worst, I was pleasantly surprised by a Bulls team that took the Pacers down to the final possession. It's a little late in the season for moral victories, but it does show the Bulls have picked up their intensity since going into and coming out of the all-star break with poor play.
Nazr Mohammed played his first quality minutes of the season, and the Bulls actually played even for a full quarter with a lineup featuring Teague, Belinelli/Cook, Butler, Radmanovic, and Nazr. Bulls fans may want to know why the Bulls felt fine using this lineup in the second quarter down by 10 but not in the fourth quarter against Brooklyn when up by 20 and three minutes to go.
Marco Belinelli shook off a poor start to score 20 while Noah dropped a 14/10/5 game for the Bulls. Jimmy Butler played exceptionally well off the bench and knocked down three of five from beyond the arc. As Butler improves his shooting, his likeliness of starting at SG next year increases considerably.
The Bulls are likely inclined to move Hinrich to the starting two guard spot, but Hinrich's best strength has been ball movement (ironic given he was a big overdribbler earlier in his career). That strength is more or less completely minimized with Rose on the court as the ball won't be flowing through Hinrich's hands all game. As such, if Butler can prove competent from beyond the arc, the Bulls should increase his role rather than trying to play Kirk at the two for big minutes, not to mention that glass Joe was out again with a sore foot.
It's hard to imagine counting on Kirk given how in and out of the lineup he's been with a variety of injuries. There's no sense in banking on him staying healthy next season.
Marquis Teague played a good chunk of minutes and alternatingly impressed and frustrated Bulls fans with his play. At this point, Teague has NBA caliber dribble penetration, occasional NBA caliber defense, and pretty much nothing else. His decision making is poor, his finishing is poor, and his shooting is poor.
That said, the athleticism and skills he does have bode well for him having a long career, but he needs to put in a killer off-season in order to upgrade the rest of his talents to make that happen.
Derrick Rose returns to the bench
Perhaps nearly as interesting as the game itself was Derrick Rose's return to the bench. Tom Thibodeau had said in January that as Rose came closer to return to the court that he'd likely sit on the bench more frequently.
Rose has been going through hour long warmups at the home games making sure any fan arriving early gets to see him working up a good sweat on the court.
For those who are incredibly cynical, the deadline to purchase playoff tickets for season ticketholders is fast approaching, and my group only planned on purchasing if we felt Rose would come back. His appearance on the bench swayed at least one member in our group to swing their vote.
That said, I do think Rose will return to the court before the season is over. I think his brother's comments locked that in.