DEERFIELD, ILL. The Bulls next opponent is a familiar foe, Philadelphia, the team that ousted them in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs last spring.
Like the Bulls, the 76ers experienced an offseason of change, losing All-Star swingman Andre Iguodala, leading scorer Louis Williams, veteran power forward Elton Brand and shooting guard Jodie Meeks.
The circumstances of each departure was different Iguodala was traded to Denver in a blockbuster deal, Williams and Meeks each left via free agency (Williams, regarded as one of the leagues top sixth men, signed with his hometown Hawks, while Meeks reached an agreement with the Lakers) and Brand, the former Bull, was amnestied and subsequently acquired by the Mavericks but based on the organizations busy summer, this season was supposed to bring new hope.
Along with short-term deals given to free-agent acquisitions Nick Young, Dorell Wright and Kwame Brown, as well as retaining big men Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen, the Sixers received All-Star center Andrew Bynum, in addition to veteran Jason Richardson, in the Iguodala deal.
However, while Bynum hasnt suited up in Philadelphia due to ongoing knee problems, the Sixers are making the best of it, as former Bulls head coach Doug Collins continues to get the most out of a gritty defensive-oriented team with no superstar scoring threat, but a lot of heart.
Those attributes have earned the respect of the Bulls current head coach, Tom Thibodeau.
Theyre good, hard-playing, different. Added a lot of shooting. Kwame Brown is an underrated addition. Jrue Holidays playing great, Evan Turners playing great for them. Theyre playing well, Thibodeau said Friday, following the teams afternoon practice session at the Berto Center.
Thibodeau isnt dwelling on the Bulls series loss to Philadelphia, which saw Derrick Rose suffer a devastating ACL injury and Joakim Noah severely sprain his ankle en route to losing in six games. But the coach is conscious of the fact that players like Holiday, who signed a four-year, 41-million contract extension on the opening day of the NBA season, and Turner, a Chicago native and former No. 2 overall draft pick, have improved.
Its in the past. You learn from every situation, we move on. Theyre our next opponent, so we have to know them well. Theyre different in terms of some of their personnel, but philosophically, theyre the same. Dougs their coach -- a great coach -- he always gets his teams to play to their strengths and cover their weaknesses, so we have to be ready, he explained. I think Turner and Holiday continue to improve each year, significantly, and then when you add in some of their additions Nick Young, Jason Richardson, Dorell Wright theyve added a lot of three-point shooting to their team.
Then, Kwame Brown gives them a lot of toughness up front. Hes a guy thats sort of under the radar, but hes a good defensive player. Spencer Hawes is a guy who can spread you out, great touch. Lavoy Allen, great touch. Their bigs are skilled. Thaddeus Young is a tough matchup, he can out-quick you at the four, can overpower threes, hes tough in transition. So, I think they put pressure on you, they play together and defensively, theyve always been tough.
After a resounding victory Wednesday over Dallas at the United Center, Thibodeau wants the Bulls to keep building on the positive momentum. As solid as the Bulls were from top to bottom in that game, the detail-oriented coach still found some areas the team needs to address.
Just continue to improve every aspect of your defense, from defensive transition to challenging shots, to finishing with the rebound to your pick-and-roll defense, catch-and-shoot defense, low-post defense, help defense, so you never have it fully solved and you can always do better. So, thats the mindset that we want to have. We want to be moving in the right direction, Thibodeau said.
We have to be a 48-minute team. There were stretches where I thought we probably didnt play as well as I would have liked. The thing I did like was offensively, getting to the free-throw line, which allowed us to get our defense set. We have to continue to cut down our turnovers. Thats critical for us, but regardless of what happens on offense, youve got to make sure youre taking care of all your responsibilities defensively and then, the offensive end, I want us to continue to play the way we did the other night. I thought we had a lot of very unselfish plays and the ball was moving, bodies were moving and we got into the paint.