The Bulls will play their second and final preseason game against the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday night at the United Center at 7:00 p.m. Chicago time on Comcast SportsNet. Although some fans do not put much stock in the preseason, many believe this season's slate of exhibition contests hold more value than they normally would, given the fact that the NBA will implement a compressed 66-game schedule due to the five-month old lockout.
As expected, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, a man who seeks near-perfection, wasn't pleased with his team's crispness Friday during the first of two tilts against the Pacers. Coming off a campaign in which the Bulls won a league-high 62 regular-season games, Thibodeau does not want his team to relax and take the preseason finale slightly.
"There’s a lot we have to clean up," he told reporters after Friday's 95-86 win over the Pacers in Indianapolis. "The turnovers. I didn’t like our rebounding. And we did too much reaching."
Here's a look at what Bulls fans should watch for on Tuesday in the team's final tuneup game before the regular-season opener against the L.A. Lakers on Christmas Day.
1. Hamilton's debut: All eyes will be on newcomer Rip Hamilton, who is expected to make his debut Tuesday night. While it's only one preseason game, the veteran shooting guard should be able to make an impression on fans who expect him to shoulder some of the scoring burden off Derrick Rose. It remains to be seen how much progress Hamilton has made when it comes to understanding Thibodeau's system. It's also unclear whether Hamilton will start or come off the bench, a decision Thibodeau will announce after Tuesday morning's shootaround. The guess here is that the Bulls will bring Hamilton off the bench and again start Ronnie Brewer. However, Hamilton certainly could be the starting two-guard when the Bulls open the regular season, because Thibodeau recently said he likes Brewer in a reserve role.
Update (2:30 p.m. CT): Hamilton will play and start at shooting guard on Tuesday night, Thibodeau told reporters after Tuesday morning's shootaround.
"As of right now, that's what we're planning on," Thibodeau said. "But we're still trying to figure out what's best for the team."
2. Another opportunity for Boozer: Heading into training camp, Bulls forward Carlos Boozer talked about looking forward to silencing his critics. He didn't play the way he wanted to against the Pacers on Friday, though, posting just seven points and six rebounds while shooting 3-for-10 from the field. But the 6-foot-9 Boozer will get another chance to show fans exactly why Bulls management signed him to a lucrative contract last summer. Thibodeau defended the much-maligned Boozer, but is counting on him to have a healthy, productive season. If Boozer's struggles continue -- on both ends of the court -- in the preseason finale, the United Center crowd won't be afraid to boo the 30-year-old, which they did during portions of last season's playoffs. In an odd split, he played considerably better on the road than he did at home last spring. However, Boozer -- who dropped 20 pounds during the prolonged offseason, according to general manager Gar Forman, and played well during camp -- appears to be anxious to show that he can have a big game in front of the hometown crowd.
“We can’t wait," he told the assembeled media on Monday. "I know [the fans] been waiting to see us and we’ve been waiting to see them.”
3. Strides from Noah: After a slow, foul-plagued start in Friday's game, Joakim Noah picked up his game in the second half and finished with 10 points and eight rebounds in 24 minutes. It was clear Noah continues to be hesitant to shoot the mid-range jumper that he had began to shoot -- and knock down -- on a consistent basis early last season. By all accounts, the 6-foot-11 center worked hard during the lockout to regain his outside touch, but the Bulls are probably hoping he shows some signs of improvement on the offensive end, along with growing more comfortable alongside Boozer.
4. Watson, Butler look to repeat Friday's effort: There are uncertainties on the Bulls, but their bench, dubbed the "Bench Mob," usually is not one of them. Thibodeau has repeatedly said he has faith that the reserves can give him a consistent effort night in and night out, which will be especially important during a shortened campaign. C.J. Watson and rookie Jimmy Butler gave the Bulls a lift in the exhibition opener, scoring 15 and eight points, respectively. Playing behind Rose, the reigning league MVP, Watson knows minutes will be hard to come by, but is confident that he can produce much better than he did a season ago. When Thibodeau does call Watson's number, the backup point guard knows it's important that he has an aggressive mindset. Meanwhile, how will Butler follow up a 3-for-3 shooting performance in which he operated within the flow of the offense? The rookie swingman will definitely need to keep giving Thibodeau reasons to play him once the regular season rolls around.
5. Rose's clean up: Rose was upset with the way he played on Friday night, missing three of nine shots from the field and turning the ball over six times. He didn't flash the post-up game that he spent time working on during the offseason and admittedly made several errant passes. Last season, Rose -- who also is excited about the possibility of playing with Hamilton -- used sub par games as fuel heading into the next contest. There's a good chance he does the same on Tuesday. "I think I had like three or four turnovers, a charge, travel, like some high school turnovers," he told reporters Friday. "But I know that comes with being excited. Just being out there, just seeing everything. But I know my game is going to come back to me since I've been working so hard this summer."