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Bulls can’t recover after languid first quarter vs. Cavaliers

Marco Belinelli Daniel Gibson

Marco Belinelli Daniel Gibson

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Updated: November 14, 2012 3:14PM

CHAMPAIGN — The preseason isn’t the time for pats on the back and compliments. It’s more a time to work off the rust in an effort to get ready for an unforgiving season.

So after an 86-83 preseason loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night at Assembly Hall in which the Bulls were able to rally from an abysmal start, coach Tom Thibodeau chose to focus on the team’s first-half defense, particularly the lack of readiness by his starters.

The Bulls’ terrible start went back further than a first quarter in which they allowed the Cavaliers to shoot 58 percent from the field. Thibodeau predicted the result after Thursday’s practice.

“The tone of the game was set by the starters,” Thibodeau said. “Readiness to play, not good. Execution, not good. Taking care of the ball. We beat ourselves is what we did.

“We practiced very poorly yesterday and we have to change. We have to correct it.”

To make matters worse in the first quarter, a rookie, Tyler Zeller, exploited a defense that seemed to allow the Cavs to stroll into the lane. Zeller had nine points in the quarter and hit all three of his shots.

In Thibodeau’s system, post players are relied upon to call the defensive coverages. So when defense in the paint is lacking, it becomes problematic.

“Our defense was lacking, and obviously on offense we weren’t moving the ball,” said point guard Kirk Hinrich, who led the Bulls with 14 points.

“We got some good shots, got the ball inside. Defensively, we just let them get going. When you let any NBA team get a bunch of confidence, they’re going to be hard to stop.”

Noted by Thibodeau in nearly every media session, the Bulls like to get out in transition.

But when the defense can’t get stops, the Bulls can’t run. So it wasn’t a coincidence that the first quarter was a catalyst to struggles on the offensive end as well.

“They jumped on us early, but we fought back like crazy in the third quarter and did a great job of fighting back in the game, and that last group that was out there did a great job too,” forward Carlos Boozer said.

“We got to play more. Play a little bit more and get our rhythm back a little bit faster.”

The Bulls turned the game around after halftime, holding the Cavaliers scoreless until 5:09 into the third quarter. They outscored the Cavaliers 32-13 in the quarter.

The Bulls twice had chances to send the game to overtime in the final 10 seconds.

Nate Robinson, able to shed his defender and get into the lane, missed a layup that would have tied the score at 85 with 7.7 seconds left. After Zeller made the second of two free throws, Jimmy Butler missed a three-pointer at the buzzer.

“It’s typical we’re in a big hole. We come out scramble and dig out of a hole, but it was such a big hole that we couldn’t overcome it,” Thibodeau said.

“We competed in the third quarter, and the thing is you’ve got to do that for 48 minutes in this league.”

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