Bulls start fast vs. Timberwolves, but fall back into flaws

Chicago BullsSportsDrew GoodenJoakim NoahDerrick RoseBasketballVinny Del Negro

Drew Gooden was speaking casually the other day about Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro, and as often happens with the gregarious forward, the conversation took a humorous turn.

"As long as you work hard," Gooden said with a mischievous smile, "you can take pretty much any shot you want."

Returning from missing one game with a sore back, Gooden tested this theory with 13 shots and a game-high 20 points Tuesday night in the Bulls' 96-86 loss to the Timberwolves at the United Center.

So much is unknown about this Bulls team that now is 0-3 in a preseason that portends growing pains. But this much is certain: Gooden is going to play—and likely shoot—a lot.

In a nod to the unconventional big men the Bulls possess, Del Negro has made it clear he will employ several small lineups this season. Gooden even started at center against the Timberwolves, ceding 15 pounds to the more conventional big man Al Jefferson.

"We have a young team, so I'm ready to do whatever I can to help," Gooden said. "If they need me to score, I can score. I can dive on the floor for loose balls, rebound, whatever."

What the Bulls need from everyone is more consistent defense and fewer turnovers. After two straight sluggish starts, against the Mavericks and Pacers, Del Negro had preached greater focus and effort from the opening tip.

The Bulls responded with a 30-point first quarter that featured a 19-point lead. But the Bulls then continued to struggle with decision-making in halfcourt sets and finished with 22 turnovers.

"It's a concern," Del Negro said. "We're turning the ball over too much. We're giving teams too many opportunities.

"Our defense was aggressive keeping them out of the middle early. And then we didn't sustain that. You can't give up layups. If guys are going to make plays, make them make jump shots with a hand in their face."

Joakim Noah was supposed to return from his eye injury to log decent minutes but, wearing protective goggles, played just 4 minutes 49 seconds in the first half and didn't return.

"I'd rather get him a couple days of practice with the goggles and get his wind better," Del Negro said.

Derrick Rose came off the bench to finish with nine points and seven assists in 26 minutes, including one spectacular reverse layup on a fast-break late.

But once again, the Bulls either turned the ball over or couldn't get stops at crucial moments. So the education continues, including for the rookie coach.

"I didn't think I was great," Del Negro said of his coaching. "I have to keep working too. That's why these exhibitions are so great, not only for the team but also myself to get a comfort level in substitution patterns and timeouts.

"We have so much to put in to give myself an opportunity to do things in timeouts. And we haven't had much time to be together, especially with our injuries."

kcjohnson@tribune.com

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