Dalen Terry provided a spark of optimism for the Chicago Bulls in their first game of the preseason, but there’s still plenty to fix as they prepare to start the season without point guard Lonzo Ball.
The bench unit led a thunderous second-half comeback, but the Bulls fell 129-125 in their preseason opener against the New Orleans Pelicans Tuesday night at the United Center. The opening half of the game painted a stark picture of ongoing flaws the Bulls still haven’t fixed after the offseason.
Here are four takeaways from the first Bulls outing of the season.
The rookie quickly won over Bulls fans in his preseason debut. Terry came off the bench in the second half, scoring 11 points to lead the Bulls to a 23-point comeback to regain the lead with four minutes to spare.
The Bulls ultimately fumbled the lead, but Terry proved his ability to change a game, finishing with seven rebounds, two assists and two steals.
Terry sparked the Bulls in transition through his defensive pressure, stealing the ball and slamming down a dunk in a full-court breakaway in the fourth quarter to push the Bulls ahead by four points.
The Bulls defense disintegrated under pressure, allowing the Pelicans to score 40 points in the first quarter and a total of 70 points in the first half.
The Pelicans carved through the Bulls’ nonexistent interior defense, scoring 62 points in the paint despite a strong performance from Nikola Vučević, who registered four blocks.
Zion Williamson overwhelmed the Bulls defense, scoring 13 points before sitting out most of the second half. The Bulls remain an undersized team even with the signing of Andre Drummond in the offseason. As a result, the defense struggled to switch in the pick and roll against Williamson, allowing the center to wreak havoc around the rim.
“We’ve got a long way to go defensively, there’s no question about that,” coach Billy Donovan said after the loss.
Tuesday’s game didn’t help provide answers to the Bulls’ wide-open race for a starting point guard to replace Ball at the start of the season.
Poor ball security plagued the team throughout the game — the Bulls turned the ball over 26 times while registering 27 assists, stalling in half-court offense throughout the first half.
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Zach LaVine contributed four of those turnovers and Goran Dragić provided three more. Alex Caruso provided the most consistent hand bringing up the ball with no turnovers and one assist, but still went 0-for-2 from 3-point range.
Coby White suffered a left thigh contusion less than three minutes into his entrance to the game and stayed sidelined for the rest of the night despite requesting to return in the second half.
Donovan still hasn’t committed to a starting point guard for the regular season and before the game, he emphasized the fluidity of the role for the Bulls while Ball remains sidelined.
“I’m not that wrapped up in who’s starting or not,” Donovan said. “The combination of players and how those guys all gel and mesh and function together would be more important with where we are at that spot.”
Williams knew the challenge when he entered the preseason — prove he can compete with the aggression required of an NBA starter.
But Williams remained timid against the Pelicans, getting outmuscled repeatedly at the rim by Williamson and only collecting five rebounds. The forward pulled the trigger with slightly more confidence than last season, but his finishing wasn’t clean enough to make an impact.
Williamson finished 2-for-7 shooting, making a lone 3-pointer in the third quarter.