Just because the Bulls knocked off Indiana, giving the Pacers their first regular-season loss Saturday, doesn’t mean they plan to let up with a less high-profile opponent, Charlotte, in town Monday.
The Bobcats, under first-year head coach Steve Clifford, a close friend of Bulls counterpart Tom Thibodeau, are playing .500 basketball to start the season and with the addition of post-up scorer Al Jefferson, Charlotte has a go-to guy to go with cadre of young players, including point guard Kemba Walker, swingman Gerald Henderson, second-year wing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, defensive-minded big man Bismack Biyombo and rookie Cody Zeller.
“Their defense is vastly improved. They have two guards [Walker and veteran backup Ramon Sessions] who can break you down off the dribble. Henderson is a guy who is very, very talented and tough, a great competitor. Jefferson gives them the big, the back to the basket big, that you can throw the ball to. He’s a load down there. He’s real clever. He knows how to get a shot off. If you let him get to his spot, you’re in trouble,” Thibodeau said after the Bulls’ morning shootaround Monday at the United Center. “I think there’s good balance to their team. They share the ball well with each other. Gilchrist is really improved. Biyombo is really improved. And I’ve been impressed with Zeller. He plays hard on every play. You have to be ready for that. They’re playing with a lot of toughness right now.”
Derrick Rose added: “Great guard play. I don’t know if Jefferson is coming back to play. But he’s a handful in the paint. If he comes back, we have to make sure we surround him and make all his shots tough.”
Joakim Noah chimed in: “They’re all important. This is our next opponent. Al Jefferson is a handful. They have a lot of guys who can score. It’s important for us not to underestimate this team.”
Thibodeau thinks Ewing will get his shot
Charlotte’s lead assistant coach is Hall of Fame center Patrick Ewing, who played for the Knicks when Thibodeau was an assistant in New York. Ewing made his head-coaching debut last week, when Clifford was hospitalized due to a heart ailment, but despite his stellar playing career, several interviews and previous stints as an assistant in Houston and Orlando, hasn’t gotten an opportunity to run his own show yet.
Thibodeau believes Ewing, who has tutored the likes of Yao Ming and Dwight Howard while working under the Van Gundy brothers, will eventually get an opportunity.
“I think it’ll happen. He’s very deserving. Unfortunately for him, he’s a guy who has done it the right way,” Thibodeau said. “He was a great player. You can’t imagine how hard that guy worked each day to achieve the greatness that he did. He has prepared himself. He has worked under a number of great coaches. He’s been with Stan. He was with Doug Collins. He was with Jeff Van Gundy. He’s prepared himself well. When the opportunity comes, I think he’s going to do a great job.”
Ewing himself quipped, “We’ll see. Only time will tell. Thibs waited 20-something years. I’m not waiting that long.”
When asked what it was like filling in for Clifford, he said, “Oh, it was a great experience. I’ve coached the summer league, but I’ve never coached in a real game, so I use every experience as a learning experience until I get my opportunity.”
A frequent playoff visitor to Chicago during the days of the heated Bulls-Knicks rivalry in the Michael Jordan era, Ewing was neutral when he was questioned about having any fond memories of the Windy City.
“Should I? I don’t even think about it. I enjoy the city. Chicago’s a great city,” he responded. “The team did an outstanding job with Michael. Thibs is doing an outstanding job now, but I don’t even think about any of that stuff.”
Rose set to go against Bobcats
Thibodeau said Rose participated in the team’s shootaround and Rose confirmed that his right hamstring had no ill effects after Saturday’s win over Indiana, in which he scored a season-high 20 points, including six three-pointers.
“I didn’t feel it when I was out there. I’m just taking my time and really being patient and it allowed me to play great,” Rose explained. “I’m not going to stop working. I’m going to keep shooting the ball. My confidence is just going to keep growing. Like I said, I’m going to have games like that where I shoot great. I’m going to have games where I miss the majority of my shots. But that’s not going to stop me from taking the shots that I normally take.”
Bulls rookies have duties, but aren’t hazed
After making a quick pit stop in the Bulls’ locker room, Rose talked to reporters with hands full of glazed donuts and was asked about the food by the assembled media.
“You all aren’t supposed to be seeing this,” he said, explaining that either Erik Murphy or Tony Snell was tasked with bringing in the treats for the team. “They’ve got to right now. I think one of the rooks brought them in. It felt good actually getting some and not having to bring them in or waste my time getting donuts, so I’m happy I’m a vet.”
But when jokingly asked if the rookies were being hazed, Rose turned serious in the aftermath of the Miami Dolphins’ recent scandal.
“No, it’s not hazing,” Rose said. “But it’s part of their routine.”