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Bulls’ new bench gang has ways to go to become mobsters

Nazr Mohammed says thimprovement from players coming off bench “has happen game” not during practice. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Nazr Mohammed says that improvement from the players coming off the bench “has to happen in a game,” not during practice. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 12, 2012 12:04PM

Kyrylo Fesenko put on his shades after the victory Tuesday against the Memphis Grizzlies, turned to Carlos Boozer, smiled and, in that Ukrainian accent that all of his teammates are getting used to, asked, “I look good, yes?”

Further evidence that the days of the “Bench Mob” are dead.

Not that the Bulls’ second unit won’t be capable of taking over games. Just not yet. With Taj Gibson the only holdover from that lunch-pail carrying, hard-hat unit, to even refer to it as “The New Bench Mob” or “Bench Mob 2.0” is a disservice to how good the Bulls’ backups were the last two years.

As the 1-for-21 shooting by the second unit in the fourth quarter showed, Kyle Korver, Omer Asik, Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson aren’t coming back anytime soon.

It’s sink or swim with Nazr Mohammed, Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli, Jimmy Butler, Vladimir Radmanovic, Gibson and the fashion-challenged Fesenko.

“It was choppy,” coach Tom Thibodeau said of the fourth-quarter effort. “I didn’t feel like we had rhythm. Too much thinking, or maybe not enough thinking, I don’t know. But just executing our sets. We want to run, we want to get our easy baskets, but then we want to flow into a secondary option and keep the ball moving. I didn’t think we did that. We have to recognize that the fourth quarter is different and we’ve got to be ready for that.”

Being ready was never a problem for the Bench Mob.

Starting five vs. starting five against the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics the last two regular seasons — with a healthy Derrick Rose — the Bulls were outclassed. The reason they earned back-to-back No. 1 seeds in the East was their depth.

It’s that depth that Thibodeau is trying to establish with this group.

“You got a new bunch of guys, everyone going out there to try and show Coach what they can do,” Mohammed said. “Also, the rhythm wasn’t quite there, a little fatigue, so it was a mixture of things, but it’s something that can definitely be corrected. Just get back to practice, work at it and in a little time it can only get better.”

But Mohammed, a Chicago native, said the group can only truly improve in game situations.

“It has to happen in a game,” he said. “The intensity of a game is at a higher level. You can’t get the intensity of a game in practice. I don’t know why. We try, we go hard, we’re one of the hardest-working teams in the league, but it has to come in a game. Eventually.”

Luckily for the Bulls, they have six preseason games left before the opener Oct. 31.

“It’s about letting guys know they have to slow down at times,” Gibson said. “It’s the first game, and we still have a long way to go. It’s preseason, and the groups we had before, we were terrible in preseason. You learn at the right time.”

Thibodeau will make sure of that.

“They have to be ready to handle that,” he said. “If they’re in that locker room, they’re capable. You don’t know how a season unfolds, whether it’s foul trouble, injury. You know we’ve had a lot of guys play big fourth-quarter minutes for us, so I expect them to be able to get the job done.”

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