Dress rehearsal, run-through, make-believe basketball: call it what you want, but the preseason is never something you put too much stock into. That doesn't mean there's nothing to look for. Take the Bulls' 93-91 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday for example.
This was our first opportunity to preview what figures to be a very interesting season. Action at both the beginning and end reflected that. The Bulls scored their first eight points on a 14-3 start, which culminated in 3-pointers from Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade (whose other 3 in the first quarter accounted for the rest of his six points).
With the Bucks up two in the final seconds, Cristiano Felicio had a clear lane to the basket before a questionable foul by Michael Carter-Williams sent him to the free throw line, where he came up empty to end the game.
Many plots and subplots showed their heads to one extent or another. A clear leader in the battle for starting power forward emerged as Taj Gibson's double-double (11 points, 12 rebounds) was far superior to Nikola Mirotic's poor shooting (1-for-7 from the field).
Doug McDermott and Tony Snell, in the unofficial starts of what could be their defining seasons, had encouraging early returns with 13 and 10 points respectively. Denzel Valentine looked like a natural on an NBA floor before his evening was cut short by a sprained ankle.
The Bulls lost the lead in the first quarter and didn't have another one until late in the fourth, which was permanently wiped out on Rashad Vaughn's 3-pointer with 39.6 seconds left. It shouldn't have been that close after the Bucks led by double digits for a good portion in between. Then again, Milwaukee is still adjusting to life without Khris Middleton. Although none of this mattered, it's possible he could have kept the Bulls from taking the lead at all, assuming Jason Kidd would have played him of course.
How lucky were the Bulls to find themselves in a position to complete the comeback? Very after bad passes and other turnovers made them look rather uncoordinated.
Several times deep in the paint, usually on rebounds, they had trouble winning battles for loose balls. True, you can't always come up with possession when the lane is clogged in front of the basket, but in this game, it was quite noticeable.
With Wade and Butler sitting out the second half, the second unit was largely responsible for the fourth-quarter surge. The players forced tough shots and had trouble keeping up in transition. It was a sobering reminder that, while this is by and large a new team, they're bench players for a reason. As much as we'd like to count on Felicio, Snell and others to keep games close, we know unless stretched very thin by injuries and/or foul trouble, Fred Hoiberg isn't going to let those players see the floor in crunch time.
The next preseason tuneup will be on the road Thursday against the Indiana Pacers. Since it's an exhibition game, maybe Aaron Brooks will have substantial playing time against his former team. That Rajon Rondo-Jeff Teague battle will have to wait in earnest a little longer. For now, we'll have to see who's likely to fare better if too many starters go down.