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Lapses might reflect Bulls’ lack of quality time together early

If Tuesday’s opener against the Miami Heat was any indication, all of Joakim Noah and Kirk Hinrich’s missed practice time might be far more significant to the Bulls’ early-season success than the undefeated preseason record.

“It’s always a concern,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “The first step in the process is to put their game together individually piece by piece. Then the next part is to put your team together piece by piece. In order to do that you need everyone to participate so the practice component is critical. It’s a team sport so you’re working on timing, 5-man offense, 5-man defense. That requires everyone to work together.”

Noah’s timing was off on offense and defense, but it wasn’t just him. Every player that hit the court seemed to have a lapse or two on the defensive end. Miami continually found the open man beyond the arc and shot 11 for 20 from three point range in the game.

“They’re two-time defending champion,” said Thibodeau. “They have great skill on the perimeter. It requires your whole team. One guy is not going to be able to handle it by yourself. That’s why you need everyone working together. You never stop guys like that. You have to try to make them work. You have to challenge shots, finish your defense. That requires multiple effort.

As a whole, the Heat looked like a championship team that had just raised a banner and accepted title rings. The Bulls looked like a team working back from multiple injuries. Timing was on Rose’s mind as well.

“Last year, I missed the whole year, so just getting a rhythm with (the team),” Rose said. “Luol, Kirk, everybody else. Jo. They’ve already got their rhythm going, so me coming into the season, getting prepared, trying to get my timing back together, they’ve been doing a great job of helping.”

The Bulls fought back to cut the lead to single digits late in the fourth quarter, which was to be expected in such a high-profile game. Noah’s 11 rebounds and Carlos Boozer’s eight helped the Bulls outrebound Miami 41-40, and the Bulls picked up 50 points in the post thanks to Boozer’s team-high 31. But that toughness under the basket, Miami’s deficient area, wasn’t enough to make up for all the wide-open threes by Shane Battier (4 for 4 from three-point range) and Ray Allen (3 for 6 from three-point range).

Rose was flying to the hoop with the ball even in the final two minutes, which may have been the most important factor of The Return anyway.

“It doesn’t matter who they put on the floor, you’re going to get a battle with them,” LeBron James said. “No matter if it’s no Derrick, no Booz, no Luol, no Joakim, no Taj, no Butler, it doesn’t matter. No matter who they put on the floor, Thibs is going to make sure those guys compete. We know that. We don’t take them lightly no matter who is in uniform.”

Email: mobrien@suntimes.com

Twitter: @michaelsobrien



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