WICHITA, Kan. — It’s only the preseason, but the Bulls’ vaunted defense was tested Wednesday by arguably the league’s premier scorer, Thunder superstar Kevin Durant, who scored 22 points on efficient 6-for-12 shooting, albeit in a losing effort at Intrust Bank Arena.
"It's tough. I go at a lot of guys in the league, but the toughest thing with them is that they run a lot of screens for him. As a defender, you've got to be in top shape to really play both ends,” Bulls All-Star small forward Luol Deng, one of the NBA’s top defenders at his position, told CSNChicago.com, after defending Durant and scoring 20 points of his own. “You've got to focus on stopping him and giving the team the best opportunity, but he's such a great player and his jumper was looking good, all you can do it keep challenging him."
Derrick Rose, a close friend and summer workout partner of Durant, added: “Sometimes you get caught up into seeing what he’s going to do out there because he’s that good and for us, it’s challenging because that’s our first time facing a scorer like that and of course, he’s hard to defend. He’s passing the ball great, so he’s been learning.”
Boozer gradually improving
Bulls power forward Carlos Boozer enjoyed his best outing of the preseason in the 104-95 win, going for 20 points and 14 rebounds, his second consecutive double-double performance.
“Good,” Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said of Boozer’s night, while also going on to compliment other players. “Each game better and better. I think you look at what Luol did, Carlos, Taj (Gibson) didn’t have numbers but he battled. He’s sharp.”
Boozer himself, while he prefers not to highlight his own play, acknowledged that he’s been improving as the exhibition campaign winds down.
“We’re getting better every game. I feel more and more comfortable every day. I think the great thing about our team is we challenge each other in practice. We challenge each other every day to improve and individually, we go hard for each other,” he said. “It’s fun out there and you can tell, each game we’re getting a little better at the things we’re trying to do, and that’s going to be our mentality throughout the whole season. Continue to improve every day and be better.”
Former Celtic praises Thibs
Oklahoma City’s Kendrick Perkins is regarded as one of the league’s most intimidating players, but upon mention of Thibodeau’s name, the ex-Boston center — he won a title with the Celtics, which featured Thibodeau as an assistant coach — lit up immediately, especially when the topic came to defense and the coach’s status as the NBA’s premier defensive mind.
“Absolutely,” he told CSNChicago.com. “I mean, every year since he’s been there, they’ve been either one or two (in the NBA) defensively. I’d say one thing about Thibs, I’m happy for him, more than anything. I’ve just watched him put his time in. He’s one of those guys that you can get in from a late game at 3 o’clock in the morning, and he’s literally in the gym, back getting film from six in the morning until nine at night. You’re just happy for a guy who’s put the time and effort in, like he’s done. It doesn’t surprise me and then, even when I’m watching the Bulls on TV, I still hear that voice. I can remember him nagging at me the whole time, but it’s a good thing.”
Bulls rookies making positive impression
The playing time or statistics might not always be there for Tony Snell and Erik Murphy — they scored three and two points, respectively, Wednesday — but Thibodeau lauded their work ethic.
“I do like our rookies because I think they have the right attitude and the right approach,” the coach said. “Now, they still have a long way to go. But you don’t have to fight to get them in the gym, they study hard, they’re improving, and when you have those qualities I think you have a chance.”
[RELATED: Rose, Bulls put away Thunder to stay perfect]
Pittman battling for regular-season roster spot
Dexter Pittman, a free-agent center invited to Bulls’ training camp, might not wow observers with anything he’s done in games, but the all-seeing Thibodeau is keeping a close eye on the big-bodied ex-Miami reserve. The longer it takes All-Star center Joakim Noah to return from his lingering strained-groin injury, the more Pittman's chances to make the squad are enhanced, though 38-year-old point guard Mike James is also still a strong candidate.
“I watched him practice. You evaluate everything. He was around the entire fall, the preseason. You look at everything and see what your greatest need will be,” Thibodeau said. “The one thing about the preseason, Jo's only played 19 minutes, so we've had an opportunity to get a look at Taj at the five, a good look at Murphy at the four and we really haven't even gotten into Luol at the four or Mike Dunleavy at the four or Jimmy (Butler) at the four yet. So we've got versatility to our team.”