DEERFIELD — On the one hand, after posting a 4-0 regular-season record against the Knicks last season without the services of former league MVP Derrick Rose, the Bulls have every right to feel confident heading into Thursday night’s home opener at the United Center.
On the other, in the aftermath of their disappointing showing in Tuesday’s loss to the Heat in Miami, there’s no reason for the Bulls to take anything for granted. The team’s mindset after Wednesday afternoon’s practice lay somewhere in the middle, as nobody overreacted to the season-opening defeat, but there was a sense of urgency with the game against New York looming.
“I feel like it was one game. I think we learned from it definitely. We watched film, went over a few things, and we’ll be right back on track (Thursday),” starting shooting guard Jimmy Butler explained. “We’ve got to guard, rebound, and especially guard the line. They got a lot of open threes, and their bench really got comfortable. I feel like we’ve got to take them out of what they do and just be the aggressor on both sides of the floor
“Another game, we get to redeem ourselves and it’s at home. We always want to protect our home floor. It’s big, it’s the start of the season,” he continued. “(Tuesday’s loss) was one game, the first game at that. There’s a lot of learning, for both teams, on their part and on ours. But we’ve got 81 more, we’ll see them (Miami) again.
“I feel like we don’t really want to be friends with anybody in this league. We want to beat everybody. When it’s in between those lines, we want to be the tougher team. I feel like everybody on our team could care less if you like them or not. We just want to win games. There’s no friends when you get out there in between those lines."
All-Star center Joakim Noah concurred: “We’re really excited. (Tuesday) was disappointing. Watching the film, we could have done a lot of things better. but we’re a work in progress, we’ve got a lot of work to do and (Thursday is) the home opener. So we’ve got to come in with the right mindset.”
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau emphasized that foul trouble to Butler and All-Star small forward Luol Deng, his two top perimeter defenders, got his squad off on the wrong foot, but also made it clear that a better overall effort is needed.
“Every game reveals things to you. It tells you the things you need to work on. We got a pretty good idea. I think you have to make your corrections whether you win or lose. You prefer to do it after winning. But you learn each day, strive for improvement and get ready for the next one,” he said. “I thought the first quarter was OK. The defense was very good. Jimmy picked up the second foul four minutes in and even coming out of the first quarter, we’re down two but they went 24-4 to start the second quarter. WE never regained our footing defensively. Offensively, I thought we were better in the second half. In the first half, we need to make better reads.
“As I said, the start of the game was good. Whatever the circumstances are, whether it’s foul trouble or whatever it might be, when our second unit comes in they have to play well. The defense and rebounding is something we have to count on. Once we got going and started moving the ball in the second half, we got better shots. The offense came around. But we never re-established our defense. To beat a team like that, particularly on the road, you have to play more than 10 or 15 good minutes. You have to do it for a whole game. We still have a long way to go,” the coach went on to say. “It’s one game. It’s a long season. We already knew how good they (the Heat) are because of what they’ve done. They’ve won two consecutive championships. The core of the team is the same, the same nine that has won those titles. They’ve been through a lot of wars together. They’re really talented. Their bench played great for them. When you’ve got a guy like Ray Allen coming off your bench, that’s a pretty deep bench.”
Noah added: “It’s definitely motivation. As disappointing as it is to lose to those guys, you’ve got to give credit where credit is due. They’re very good defensively, they’re very good offensively and we can’t make mistakes. We made a lot of mistakes, I missed a lot of easy baskets around the rim and I’m just going to keep working, and I’m going to be better next time we play them.”
The native New Yorker isn’t overlooking the Knicks, led by high-scoring small forward Carmelo Anthony and center counterpart Tyson Chandler, the former Bulls draft pick and a similarly defensive-oriented player.
“They’re a very talented group. We’ve been beating them pretty good, especially the last couple of years, so they’ll come in with the right mindset. We’ve just got to compete hard and be ready for an aggressive style of basketball,” Noah said. “Do I like playing against Tyson? Not particularly. But he’s a hell of a player and he’ll be ready to compete tomorrow, so I’ve got to come with the right mindset.”
Thibodeau, a former Knicks assistant coach, put little stock in last season’s results.
“They’re a different team. Those games were tough and hard-fought. It’s a new year. It’s a lot different. When you look at their skill set, the way they can attack you, you can never let your guard down against them,” he said. “They’re talented. They’re deep. When you’re dealing with a guy like Carmelo, he puts enormous pressure on you. We’re going to have to play 48 minutes of basketball against them.”