Kings-Bulls Preview

While many have been quick to dismiss the Chicago Bulls with

Derrick Rose sidelined, coach Tom Thibodeau’s team is eager to

prove its doubters wrong.

After six consecutive losing campaigns, the Sacramento Kings are

also looking to surprise.

Chicago tries to continue its recent domination of Sacramento as

both teams kick off their seasons Wednesday night at the United

Center.

After finishing an Eastern Conference-best 50-16 last season,

the Bulls entered the playoffs with legitimate title hopes before

Rose tore his left ACL during Game 1 of a first-round loss to

Philadelphia. It’s still unknown when the league’s 2010-11 MVP will

be able to return to the court.

“We all know us being without D. Rose we’ll probably be the

underdog in every game we play,” Carlos Boozer told the team’s

official website. “That’s all right. We’re ready for that

challenge. We’ll be ready to play every game.”

With Rose out, Chicago will look for even more from Luol Deng.

The All-Star forward, who played through a torn ligament in his

left wrist last year, ultimately opted against surgery and insists

he’s good to go.

“Trying to do too much would be the biggest mistake I could

make,” said Deng, whose average of 15.3 points ranked second on the

team behind Rose’s 21.8. “I know how good I could be when I’m

myself. For all of us as a team, no one individual is going to do

what Derrick did. As a group, we all have to commit. I’m really

looking forward to it.”

While the Bulls won 18 of the 27 games Rose missed during the

2011-12 regular season thanks to impressive efforts from their

bench, similar displays could be hard to come by with Omer Asik,

C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver no longer around.

Chicago, though, brought back veteran guard Kirk Hinrich for a

second go-round and could receive a spark from Nate Robinson.

“I think even if you win a championship, you come back the next

day and people will doubt you,” Deng said. “It’s just the way it

always is. I think as a team – we hear things all summer – you know

what’s being said. The best thing that we do as a team is we really

focus on what we have to do day-in and day-out. We don’t try to get

caught up in what’s going on outside these four walls.”

Chicago has taken seven of eight matchups from Sacramento,

including four in a row by an average of 16.8 points.

The Kings, who went 22-44 last season, compiled a West-worst

6-27 road record – one of several areas they’re hoping to improve

upon in 2012-13. Sacramento will also need to clamp down on defense

after finishing last in the league in both opponent field-goal

percentage (47.6) and points allowed (104.4).

“We have to surprise people because we’re no one in the NBA,”

coach Keith Smart said. “We have to pull out all the stops to try

to grow as a team.”

After averaging 18.1 points and a team-best 11.0 rebounds,

DeMarcus Cousins seems primed for another big season. The Kings

will also be looking for second-year point guard Isaiah Thomas to

take his game to the next level after he averaged 15.1 points and

5.4 assists over 41 games when playing at least 24 minutes.

Selected fifth overall in this year’s draft, Thomas Robinson

could also contribute for the Kings, who went 5-2 during the

preseason.

“I’m very pleased,” Cousins told the team’s official website.

“(There’s) definitely a big improvement with this team this year so

far. We learned a lot. We improved a lot and accomplished a lot

this preseason, so hopefully it can carry over to the regular

season and we can turn things around here.”