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What is UP, Bulls Nation!
Been a long while since I cracked the knuckles and sat down at the keyboard. I decided to take the offseason as a break from my columns. Flush the system. Also writing is hard and time consuming. Shout-out to my guy Will – truly the GOAT – and everyone on the Bulls beat who write and write and write and wriiiiiiiiite. How TF do they do it?
I never want to half-ass it. And much like one of my Bulls idols Scottie Pippen, I wasn’t trying to “f*ck my summer up.” So I spent it away from computers as much as I possibly could. Outside. Chicagoans know that you have to seize that glorious – and hauntingly short – window of time when the elements aren’t actively trying to kill us.
But now the Bulls are officially back and so are my columns. Here’s the first of many for the 2022-23 season: counting down my favorite things about the Bulls’ season-opening win over the Miami Heat.
It’s the Pecking Order.
10. Who They Beat
Would it be right any other way than Petty Peck kicking off the list? If y’all have known me for awhile, you know I absolutely DESPISE the Heat. It’s mostly a Pat Riley thing. Those Heat teams of the late ’90s had some epic battles with the Bulls dynasty. Sure, the Bulls almost always came out the victors in that rivalry – especially in the playoffs – but that old backyard brawl kind of rivalry we saw between NBA teams in the ’90s was epic stuff. And I still remember it vividly, all these years later.
In 2006, the Bulls were finally decent again for the first time since the dynasty ended, but lost to the eventual champion Heat in the first round of the playoffs. The Bulls shocked everyone a year later by sweeping the defending champion Heat out of the playoffs. And there was much rejoicing.
Then the Heatles Era happened. The Bulls-Heat rivalry was renewed, but this time the power dynamic was different. The Heat had Wade, LeBron and Bosh, all of whom spurned the Bulls in free agency. The Bulls had Rose, Noah, Deng, and a great cast of supporting players. They had some of the hardest-fought regular season games in the NBA. The Bulls, often undermanned, would upset the Heatles. They ended their historic winning streak. Then they’d meet in the playoffs, and it was a different, sadder story. And the Heat hate amplified.
Now Jimmy Butler is the leader of “Heat Culture”, whatever TF that is. And it’s hard to see a former Bulls star leading THAT team to great heights. Even if I was more than fine with seeing Jimmy go. I had my reasons, those reasons were 100% valid, we’re not getting into that right now.
[…Matt gets snarky tweets from Jimmy Fan Club Platinum members Will and Mark in 3…2…1…]
The Bulls went 0-4 against Miami last season. To begin this season by handing them a loss in their home opener? Absolutely delicious. And that dagger from DeMar DeRozan over a helpless Jimmy? Put that directly. In. My. Veins.
[Shout-out to my guy Gus for posting that clip!]
And yeah, Petty Peck loved EVERY OUNCE of Heat misery on Wednesday night, coupled with Bulls joy. It’s who I am. Not ashamed in the slightest.
9. Goran Dragic, Magician/Savior
No, seriously. WTF was this and how did it go in?
That was one of the wildest in-game circus shots I have ever seen. But on top of that shot’s entertainment value, Dragic draining threes was the only thing keeping the Bulls in that game until DeMar turned it on in the second half. Between those shots and some other timely plays on both ends, the Bulls absolutely do not win that game without Goran. Perhaps he had some old demons to exorcise against his former team. Whatever it was, I loved it. If Dragic can stay healthy, he’ll be huge for the Bulls this season.
8. Dalen Terry, Head Cheerleader
Based on what we saw in the preseason, I absolutely want to see Dalen get minutes this season. He didn’t see any action in the opener, and there’s a chance that the only way Dalen sees the floor is if the Bulls suffer- you know what, I’m not even gonna say it. No reason to float that negative energy. But you know what I mean.
What I absolutely love about Dalen already is he brings that same infectious energy whether he’s on the floor or cheering on his teammates from the bench. Every team needs a guy like that. Dalen is very clearly that guy for the Bulls now.
And this one from preseason slayed me:
[Shout-out to our fam at Bleacher Nation Bulls!]
Give me more Dalen reacting to epic plays from his teammates. Give me soooo much more of it. Then give Dalen minutes to bring that energy to the court.
7. Joakim Was There
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Peck has a man-crush on Joakim and it’s kinda funny and also a little weird. CORRECT. WHATEVER. DEAL WITH IT.
It’s always awesome to see Jo taking in a Bulls game – in enemy territory no less! If any of those Bulls players back in the day hated the Heatles more than I did, it was definitely Noah.
Joakim may have a house down in Miami or whatever, but there is no question where his loyalties lie. He’s a BULLS Ambassador, not a Heat ambassador. And you know watching the Bulls take the W in Miami brought him so much joy. And that brings me so much joy.
I would die for this man. 😭😭😭
6. Appreciate Vooch
Sure, Nikola Vucevic had an off-night shooting the ball. Any of the stubbornly still existing Vooch Haters criticizing his game last night – you know who you are – had to stop there, and they really shouldn’t have started at all. Because Vooch had such a positive impact on that game.
It wasn’t just the elite rebounding, making 17 boards look easy. [By the way, Vooch passed Chris Webber Wednesday night and is now 45th all-time in defensive rebounds. Kudos!] Vooch continued what he showed us in preseason, playing engaged and competent defense. Mark K gave you a sampling of it here:
He also demonstrated his wildly underappreciated passing ability. The Bulls want to keep the ball moving on offense. Without Lonzo Ball’s great court vision available, other guys need to make passes that switch the ball from the strong side of the court to the weak side. Take it away, Mark:
No one, and I mean NO ONE among NBA bigs, aside from maybe the other Nikola (Jokic) is making passes like that. It’s an elite-level skill in Vooch’s bag, and one that the Bulls desperately need.
The cherry on top? Even on a bad shooting night, Vooch has the confidence to take big shots late in close games. He showed it to us throughout all of last season, and he showed us again in Miami. It didn’t matter that he was 0-4 from behind the arc when that pass came to him, the Bulls clinging to a 6-point lead with five minutes left in the game and the Heat holding the momentum. Vooch shot. Vooch drilled it. Lead back up to 9. Huge.
Vooch Haters really need to shut up. Like, now.
5. Alex Caruso’s Maniacal Defense
Alex Caruso has no regard for his own well-being on a basketball court. He was diving all over the floor, jumping into passing lanes and baiting guys twice his size into leveling him to draw offensive fouls and illegal screens.
It’s a double-edged sword of me loving every minute I watch him play, and wincing every time he gets hit or falls down. Bulls fans have been predisposed to fear injuries for years now. It’s an ugly and unfortunate truth, but one that we’ve very much earned. And given the way certain incidents unfolded last season [yeah, that d-bag] my natural reaction is to hold my breath every time Caruso is involved in a physical play. Which is EVERY DAMN SECOND he’s on the court.
But you have to give the man credit. That level of defensive intensity is what earned him his opportunity at the NBA level, and what has kept him in the league and thriving. He played 30 hard minutes against the Heat. And the Bulls needed every second of it. Billy Donovan opted, not surprisingly, to close each half with Caruso on the floor. Expect that to be the norm all season, because his presence sets the tone for the other four guys. And it covers some of his teammates’ defensive gaffs and weaknesses.
Caruso was a +9 on the floor despite a 2-10 shooting night and 4 turnovers. The turnovers were uncharacteristic, and I’m not worried about those. If he could just knock down threes with some regularity, he would be an insanely valuable player. Even as just a defensive ace, he’s already very valuable.
4. Patrick Williams Coming Out Party!
LOLZ. Just kidding. This is a list of things I loved about the win in Miami, but I felt like I couldn’t get away with ignoring the biggest bummer of the game. Because it’s something on the mind of every diehard Bulls fan. Has been for a couple years now. What exactly is Pat’s role on this team, and why aren’t we seeing much – if any – development from him?
Look, it’s just one game. And I’m not going to flip out and lose faith completely from just one bad game. But the fact that I say that about Pat often is kinda the big picture problem, isn’t it? How often have we said “we need to see Pat put his stamp on this game tonight” and then he doesn’t? How often has Zach or some other important player been out with an injury and we’ve said “well, that gives Pat an opportunity to do more tonight!” only to see the same underwhelming results?
I still firmly believe in the reality of time. And Pat is still so young, with ample time and opportunity to improve. Sorry, Mark. But it’s true.
But a total dud of a game like Pat’s against the Heat is the very reason why some Bulls fans like Mark are running out of patience with him. And they’re justified in their frustration. He’s got to prove he wants to be a difference-maker out there on a nightly basis. And then go do it.
Until he does, Bulls fans who enjoy self-torture will be reading off the names of players drafted behind Pat three years ago and are doing a hell of a lot more to help their teams win games. And wondering what the heck AK and Eversley saw then that none of us are seeing now.
3. Ayo Answers the Call
OK, I know it may seem like us CHGO folks have extra motivation to shower Ayo Dosunmu with praise at every turn now that he’s “ONE OF US! ONE OF US!”
And yeah, I’d be lying if I tried to tell you that Dave and I weren’t geeked out and ecstatic when Ayo strolled into our CHGO studios to do that appearance and photo shoot last week. Will’s been a beat guy for years, so being around players doesn’t faze him as much. But Dave and I fanboy hard. No shame. That’s who and what we are. Fans. And we’re so royally stoked to grow this partnership with Ayo. A Bulls player who’s also a Chicago guy. It’s just so perfect.
But in this case, I’m going to shower Ayo with praise because he freaking deserves it.
Chicago sports fans have a tendency to overhype players who come from local roots and put on Chicago jerseys. Derrick met that hype and surpassed it. Ayo isn’t likely going to be a 22 year-old NBA MVP, but that’s not the point of comparison. He’s a damn good basketball player who is already exceeding Bulls fans’ lofty expectations. He’s also working incredibly hard to improve his game while staying humble and hungry.
It says a lot just how much confidence Donovan has in Ayo already. Along with DeMar, Ayo played a team-high 36 minutes in Miami. Once again starting for an injured Lonzo, the young man from Morgan Park answered the call. 17 points on 7-14 shooting, knocked down 3-6 from deep, adding 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and a block. That’s a stuffed stat sheet. Oh, and he only turned the ball over twice, demonstrating his impressive composure in some of the game’s biggest moments. That “Hey Andre, you need to chill” moment he had was fantastic.
His defense is rapidly improving. The work he put into his three-point shot, overall shooting form and quicker release is evident. The muscle he added to his body in the offseason is evident, and giving him more confidence to attack the basket.
While we’re all waiting around for Patrick Williams to show us something, it’s looking more and more likely that Ayo is the young Bull poised for a breakout year. And I dig it.
2. DeMoooh My God
“Doesn’t shoot threes.”
“The Bulls are going to slide into irrelevance because DeMar is another year older and there’s no way he can do again what he did last year.”
“Bleacher Report’s Most Overrated Players of the Last 10 Years: #3 DeMar DeRozan”
DeRozan heard ALL OF IT. He was listening to you idiots ALL OFFSEASON. While he was in the gym. Working.
Then he came out and showed everyone. He’s still that dude.
37 points on 14-22 from the field, including 2-3 on threes. 9 assists, 6 boards, 2 steals and a block. 1 turnover. He scored 19 of those 37 in the third quarter alone, to put the Bulls in command heading to the final frame. In that final frame, as DeMar was getting his rest, the Bulls’ lead began to slip away with one bad offensive possession after another.
DeMar checks back in. Immediate bucket from the midrange. Several times in the game’s final 6 minutes, the shot clock would be winding down as the ball found its way into DeMar’s hands. And then he’d go be DeMar. AKA one of the game’s best closers. That’s not hyperbole. He proved he was last season. He proved on Wednesday night he still is.
After the game, he was talking with our guys Adam Amin and Stacey King on NBC Sports Chicago. Stacey teed him up beautifully, and DeMar clapped back at the “so-called experts” who doubt him.
[Shout-out to our friends at See Red UK!]
The joy I get from watching DeMar play, and in doing so, shut up the haters, is incalculable. His footwork and pump fakes are a gorgeous masterclass. His timely shot-making legitimately reminds you of Jordan. And he appears to be finding so much joy playing with his Bulls teammates. It’s all just remarkable. And so, so satisfying to watch.
As my guy Will pondered in his postgame column, maybe we won’t just see DeMar match his showing from last season. As crazy as it sounds, his game against the Heat makes us wonder if he can, in Year 14, be even better.
1. My CHGO Team
Yeah, I’m gonna be sappy and save the #1 spot to talk about how much I love my team of co-workers. It has nothing much to do with the Heat game in particular, other than that our jobs are even more fun when we’re actually watching the sport that we talk about every day. And it was a long offseason with lots of talking and no basketball.
But the job is always fun with this crew. Don’t get me wrong, I love to talk. I think y’all know that by now. But the joy is born from who I get to talk with. And listen to. And interacting with our fellow Bulls fans in the live comments during our shows is undoubtedly a big part of that fun. Our shows wouldn’t be what they are without that element, and we love that engagement.
It’s collaborating with my CHGO team that makes talking to and entertaining our fellow fans as fun and rewarding as it is. I can honestly say that I love every minute I spend with Dave, Will, Mark and Joey. They’re all so smart, so interesting, so entertaining and so focused on their craft. They blow me away with their talent and commitment.
Y’all know that Dave is my guy. Has been for many years now. Everything he does and says makes me laugh or think or both. Getting to team up with Will and Mark over the last 7 months has been such a gift. Two of the brightest NBA and basketball minds I’ve had the privilege to talk with and learn from. Not to mention two of the absolute nicest guys, who put up with Dave’s and my nonstop nonsense. We tease Joey for being so young all the time. Truth is, he’s already smarter and more talented than the four of us in so many ways. But that doesn’t stop him from working his butt off, which he does.
This job is cool. Duh, we get to talk about sports every day. But it’s the people I get to do it with that makes me feel so incredibly lucky. Every single day that we do it. I hope it comes through in our shows just how much we genuinely enjoy each other. Because we really, really do. I know how rare that is. And I’m so appreciate to have it with our team here at CHGO. And not just our Bulls team, but everyone at CHGO. Delightful and dedicated, all of them.
Dream jobs shouldn’t be about the what, but the who. I’m living mine. Lucky, humbled and thankful as hell.
OK, gooey display over. Thanks for humoring me. I’ll make it up to you soon with a foul-mouthed rant in a Postgame show.
Thanks for reading, as always.
The Bulls are back! See Red. Be Good.
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