Bulls shootaround notes: Bulls prepare to host Thunder

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Bulls shootaround notes: Bulls prepare to host Thunder

With mounting injuries to key players on a handful of teams even before the regular season has begun, many coaches are resting their players as the preseason winds down. But for Tom Thibodeau and the Chicago Bulls, improving every day with a fairly new roster means all systems go with two games left in the preseason.

Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Love, Stephen Curry, Amare Stoudemire and rookie Austin Rivers are just a few big names who have suffered injuries this preseason, while John Wall, Ricky Rubio and Derrick Rose also will miss the beginning of the regular season. All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard underwent offseason surgeries to ready themselves for the start of the season, and are being brought along slowly.

In one of the most injury-riddled starts to an NBA season in recent memory, Tom Thibodeau said he sees the benefit in playing his starters with little limitations to form chemistry and good habits that will take the team deep into the season.

We want to continue to improve, Thibodeau said. Thats been the whole focus of our camp. Each day get better, just go step-by-step, build the right habits, do the right things and then the results will take care of themselves. I just want us to keep moving forward.

The Bulls host the reigning Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder tonight, and coach Scott Brooks has opted to rest Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook with two games left until the regular season. And while Thibodeau will be cautious with his group, he said the benefit of playing his roster, to an extent, like he would a regular season game will help.

Youre building your foundation, youre building your habits, and youre trying to get ready to endure a long season, he said. But its important to focus in on exactly whats in front of you. You dont want to look behind, you dont want to look ahead. You want to concentrate on exactly what youre trying to get accomplished right now.

The approach, the attitude, readiness to play, knowing your opponent, all that stuff is important. So I want us to be building the right habits, and well see where we are after the game.

Thibodeau said he is happy with where his team is right now, thanks in part to a full offseason of workouts and training camp that saw six newcomers arrive in Chicago. And while increased preseason repetitions will help that acclimation process, Thibodeau understands his team will have to make adjustments moving forward

Were going to continue to add throughout the season, but you dont get it all in one day, or one week or three weeks, he said. Youre gonna continue to build and then you see how teams are defending certain things, so youll add counters in. Youll see how theyre trying to attack your defense so you may make adjustments to some of your schemes to take certain things away. So youre constantly building and trying to improve.

A healthy Hamilton brings scoring to Bulls offense

The Bulls have averaged 88.4 points in five preseason games, third lowest in the NBA, but a pleasant surprise has been the consistency of shooting guard Richard Hamilton.

The 13-year veteran missed 38 of 66 games last season with various injuries, but has logged at least at least 20 minutes and 10 points in four of the Bulls five preseason games. His 15.2 points per game lead the Bulls, and is shooting better than 51 percent from the field.

I think hes played very well in the preseason and health is critical for him and us, Thibodeau said. So hes got to continue to work on taking care of his body, which hes done. Hes put in a lot of work over the summer so were hopeful that he can endure the whole season.

Hamilton did not have time last summer to mold into a role in Chicago. With the NBA lockout spilling into late November, the 34-year-old Hamilton was thrown into the lineup while battling nagging injuries.

A groin injury forced him out of 10 of the Bulls first 15 games. He played in six games to end January, but missed the next 13 with a thigh injury. Later in March, he missed 15 more games with a shoulder injury. He returned in April and averaged 12.1 points on 45 percent shooting in 12 games to end the season.

With the injuries behind him for now, a healthy Hamilton looks to be a key piece to the Bulls new rotation.

He got hurt so early in the year and he never really got into a rhythm. The first time he got into extended games was April and so it was unfortunate for him and us, Thibodeau said. But hes a lot healthier this year, so sometimes theres not anything you can do about injuries. You deal with them as best you can. Hes healthy now and thats all that matters.

Bulls five-man mentality improves assist, turnover rate

The Bulls have an entirely new look at point guard this season, headed by Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson, while the team awaits the return of Derrick Rose.

Early results in the preseason werent pretty, as the Bulls compiled 45 assists and 63 turnovers through three games. But in the teams past two preseason contests, wins over Milwaukee and Minnesota, they have handed out 51 assists and turned the ball over just 30 times as a team.

Thibodeau attributes the better passing to the Bulls having what he calls a five-man mentality on offense.

Turnovers usually are, at the start of the season, theyre usually up, he said. But you want to get rid of the ones that are a result of being too much 1-on-1 or trying to make home run pass instead of simple plays. Keep the ball moving, make the right decision, make the quick decision, shoot it pass it drive it. Lets make a decision.

Those habits form through repetitions both in practice and in games, one of the reasons Thibodeau wants to keep his rotation in tact leading up to the start of the regular season.

A big thing is sharing the ball, and its a big part of the overall philosophy of the team. If a man is open you hit him. If youre being guarded by two or youre in a crowd, we want you to pass. If youre open and not guarded and its your shot, we want you to take it. Its not hard. Pretty simple, and again youre building those habits right from the start of camp.

Starting point guard Kirk Hinrich leads the team this preseason with 6.5 assists per game, followed by Nate Robinson (4.5), Richard Hamilton (2.2) and Jimmy Butler (2.0).

Wake-up Call: Miggy gets the boot; Rodon's rocky debut; More bad news for Cubs?

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AP

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White Sox willing to overlook 'rough' patches as healthy Carlos Rodon returns

White Sox willing to overlook 'rough' patches as healthy Carlos Rodon returns

The two fastballs that soared to the backstop on Wednesday night should give you a strong indication that Carlos Rodon was far from perfect.

But in making his first start of the 2017 season, the White Sox pitcher also offered his team plenty of signals that his health isn’t going to be an issue.

Rodon returned to the mound for the first time since last September and brought the goods that made him one of baseball’s top pitching prospects several years ago. Given he’d missed three months with bursitis in the left shoulder and the potential value he offers to a franchise only half a season into its first rebuild in 20 years, that was plenty for the White Sox to overlook the rust Rodon showed in a 12-3 White Sox loss to the New York Yankees at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“He started a little rough early obviously, got some high pitch counts,” manager Rick Renteria said. “And then he kind of settled down.

“Having him back in the rotation and getting him back out there on the big league field, coming out of there feeling good, healthy. I'm sure he will continue to get better as he continues to get out there and move forward.”

Renteria said he wasn’t surprised that Rodon struggled with his command as much as he did against the Yankees. The issues the pitcher displayed in uncorking a pair of wild pitches, walking six batters and throwing strikes on only 41 of 94 pitches were also present during Rodon’s four rehab starts in the minors.

But as long as the stuff was there, the White Sox would be OK with any issues that accompanied the performance. Rodon began to alleviate those concerns immediately when he earned a called strike on the game’s first pitch with a 93-mph fastball to Brett Gardner. Featuring a four-seamer with an absurd amount of movement and a nasty slider he struggled to control, Rodon checked all the boxes the White Sox hoped for from a pitcher they believe will be a frontline starter for years to come. Rodon also was pleased by how he felt before, during and after the contest.

“I was pretty excited,” Rodon said. “I was going a little fast in the first. But it was good to be out there. Next time out, it’ll hopefully be a little better. Arm feels good, body feels good, all you can ask for.”

Well, it’s not ALL you can ask for, but it’s pretty damn good out of the gate given how slow Rodon’s return took. His four-seam fastball averaged 94.9 mph according to BrooksBaseball.Net and touched 97 mph. His two-seamer averaged 94.4 mph and touched 95. And his slider, though he couldn’t control it, nor locate it for a strike, averaged 86 mph.

“You could see (Omar Narvaez) going over to try to catch some balls that were having tremendous run,” Renteria said. “That's (Rodon). He's got some tremendous life, he's just trying to harness it the best that he can and being able to execute where he wants to get as many strikes as possible.”

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The strikes were about the only thing Rodon didn’t bring with him. He walked Gardner to start the game and issued two more free passes after a Tim Anderson error allowed a run to score and extended the first inning. Rodon threw 37 pitches in the first, only 15 for strikes.

He also reached a full count to each of the batters he faced in the second inning. Rodon walked two more with two outs in the third inning after he’d retired six batters in a row.

And there were those pesky first-inning wild pitches that resembled something out of ‘Bull Durham.’

But all in all, Rodon and the White Sox ultimately saw enough in the first outing to be pleased.

“Great stuff, great life, but the goal is to put it in the zone and let them swing it to get guys out early,” Rodon said. “That’s not what happened. I’ll get back to that.”

“It’s a tough loss, but it’s better to be with the guys out on the field grinding than sitting on the couch and watching, for sure.”