NBA Pre-Season Tips off
As a fan of the NBA, I was overjoyed to watch some pre-season action. Particularly, the Chicago Bulls. While watching these games, it was not hard to tell which teams and players finished their season in the NBA Bubble in Orlando and those that have not played competitive basketball since March. No amount of training camp can prepare players for the speed and intensity of NBA basketball. A historically short 72 day offseason for the for some and a unusually long offseason for the rest.
Obviously, those that last played 9 months ago struggled mightily. I watched a good portion of the Knicks and Pistons game as well as the entire Bulls and Rockets game. The Knicks and Pistons played a glorified pickup game. Neither team played in the NBA Bubble, so they were in the same boat when it came to conditioning, chemistry with their team, and overall performance.
Both the Knicks and Pistons struggled to get into their offensive sets, and turnovers were aplenty. If you did not get a chance to watch any of the pre-season games, have no fear. I will paint a picture for you. Close your eyes and imagine the 5 on 5 games at your local gym. There was a lot of back and forth up and down the court. No flow to the game whatsoever. Turnovers followed by bricked 3-point shots, and poor defense that led to reach in foul after reach in foul. Mason Plumlee was one of the only players on the floor during this game that had participated in the NBA Bubble and he looked to be worth every penny of the $25 million Detroit gave him in free agency. That is how bad some of the players looked in this game.
The Bulls and Rockets was a different story. While the Rockets as a team played in the Bubble, many of the players on the roster for their first pre-season game did not. On the flip side, the Chicago Bulls had not played an NBA basketball game since March. It was evident. The Rockets led the game from wire to wire and one point had a 30-point lead over Chicago.
This was our first chance to see former Kentucky teammates, John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins on their new team. Both of them looked like they have not skipped a beat. John Wall in particular. He had not played since 2018 due to injury, but his quickness, ball handling, and play making ability has not evaded him. He played very well in the limited minutes he received. The Rockets came out of the gate with energy and forced the Bulls to turn the ball over time and time again. At one point, the Rockets had 30 points off Chicago turnovers while the Bulls had 0 points off the limited Rockets turnovers.
With a new coach in Stephen Silas, and even without James Harden, the rockets looked much of the same as they did last year. They played fast and were not shy shooting the 3-ball. The Rockets connected on 24 of 52 three-point attempts while the Bulls shot a pedestrian 11 or 34. The points off turnovers and 3-point shooting were the difference in the game. I realize it is only pre-season, but the Rockets have plenty of positives to build on while the Bulls will need to review the tape and re-group before the two teams face off again this weekend.
With only 4 pre-season games, the teams and players that were not involved in the NBA Bubble will have to acclimate quickly to the speed and intensity of NBA basketball. This will not be an easy task as full-team practices are limited due to Covid protocols. The regular season is going to come fast and furious and some teams will likely have to climb out of an early-season hole if they want to punch a ticket into the new ‘play-in-tournament’ or beyond.