The Chicago Bulls weren’t exactly firing on all cylinders on their first night under a new coach, but a balanced offensive attack paid off.
They’ll try to start 2-0 for just the second time in 13 years Wednesday night when they visit what appears to be a rebuilding Brooklyn Nets team.
Chicago squeaked out a 97-95 home win over Cleveland on Tuesday in Fred Hoiberg’s debut. The Bulls held strong on the Cavaliers’ final possession, with Pau Gasol blocking LeBron James’ potential tying layup attempt before Jimmy Butler broke up the ensuing inbounds pass, letting time expire.
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They were stout defensively, holding Cleveland to 40.4 percent shooting. Dominant defense was one of the franchise’s core tenets under former coach Tom Thibodeau, but offensively is where the Bulls are hoping to take a leap under Hoiberg.
Chicago wasn’t a juggernaut Tuesday, shooting 42.5 percent, though its 102 possessions were a contrast from the old style of play under Thibodeau. The Bulls averaged 95.4 possessions per 48 minutes last season to rank 21st – their highest finish in Thibodeau’s five years.
Nikola Mirotic, who averaged 10.2 points as a rookie, scored a team-high 19 while starting over Joakim Noah, while Derrick Rose had 18 on 8-of-22 shooting and Jimmy Butler added 17. Tony Snell and E’Twaun Moore also scored 11 apiece.
"That is how we are going to win every game," Rose said. "It kind of feels good going into every game knowing you have the possibility of winning. You have a chance of winning every game because we are so good and deep."
Noah was scoreless in 17 minutes but did have nine rebounds and was held out later in the game because of what Hoiberg called a knee bruise, and his status is unclear for Wednesday.
"I tried to put him in, but the trainer would not let me," Hoiberg said.
Brooklyn went 38-44 a season ago and was eliminated in the first round in six games by top-seeded Atlanta. The Nets may again be a fringe playoff team, except this time they’re much younger and appear to have an eye on the future. Deron Williams and Kevin Garnett are gone, and Joe Johnson could follow suit in the final season of a six-year, $123 million deal.
"We want to build and keep developing our young guys so we put ourselves in a position at the end of the season to be able to have some cap flexibility and then build from there," general manager Billy King said.
A new-look bench contains scores of new reserves, including Shane Larkin, Wayne Ellington and first-round pick Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. The offense figures to be run through Brook Lopez, who averaged 23.7 points on 57.7 percent shooting with 9.4 rebounds over his final 16 games last season.
The Nets will also look to ramp up the tempo after playing at the league’s seventh-slowest pace last season.
"It’s just a matter of taking advantage of what strengths we have," Lopez said, "And we have a young, athletic and a high-energy group and so we’ve got to learn to play that way. I’ve got to get adjusted to it and we can definitely go both ways."
Chicago last started 2-0 in 2012-13 and has won 12 of the last 16 regular-season meetings, though the Nets have won their last three home openers.