With the Chicago Bulls' first two games in the books, it's time to take a look at five things we've learned from their victory over the Lakers and their loss to the Warriors.
The loss to the Warriors provided some sharp reality for the Bulls, as they were outworked by a team that they have the tools to defeat. This is, perhaps, a sign that the Bulls have a target on their backs for being an elite team.
With the opening pair of games behind them, the Bulls can catch a breather before playing again Thursday in Sacramento.
This gives them plenty of time to work on some of the issues I'm about to bring up.
Whether the Bulls' shocking lack of effort is a by-product of the longer offseason or a result of the team getting the praise it deserves and resting on it, something has changed with this Bulls squad.
Last season, this team would fight for every lose ball and rebound, even if they had no real chance of getting near the basketball. It was that effort that won them 62 games and the league's best record.
This year, rebounds are not being battled for and the turnover rate through lose balls and steals is abysmal. The Golden State Warriors went to town on this, forcing 20 turnovers, scoring 22 points off them and also nabbing an absurd 16 steals.
Some of these turnovers, of course, must be consigned to the lack of preseason practice. The majority, however, have been lack of focus and concentration.
The Bulls are 1-1, but it could easily have been 0-2. Chicago must turn this around before it develops from a bump in the road to something more season defining.
Derrick Rose won the MVP award last season by simply dominating not just the last few minutes of a game, but by taking control from the first possession to the last.
He scored in the 20s every night and left his teammates with the task of scoring just enough to get the win.
This season, Rose has tried to become more of a 'true' point guard. He has stopped scoring early on, taking just one shot against the Lakers in the first quarter and none against the Warriors, as he tried to get his teammates hitting the target first.
It's a nice idea that, on a good night, will lead to an easy win. But this Bulls team, as constituted, is not built for a true point guard.
It's built for Derrick Rose the point guard.
It's built around him scoring 20-plus points each night, dishing at the right time to the open man.
The real trouble is that when Rose doesn't score well early, he seems to struggle to break into the game at a later stage, too. He ended with just 13 points against Golden State on just 4 of 17 shooting. Those are shocking statistics from someone who is used to hitting 12 of 17.
Rose has turned into a jump-shooter. This happened at times last season and the Bulls lost every time. If Rose can turn it around, like he says he will starting with the Kings on Thursday night, the Bulls will be just fine.
Luol Deng was consistent last season for the first time in his career.
He spent the summer leading the Great British men's team in a warm-up event for next year's London Olympics.
That time spent as the leader of a team has made Deng probably the Bulls MVP of this two-game-old season. He has scored 21 and 22 points in his first two games, respectively, and recorded a double-double in the loss to Golden State.
Not just this, but his scoring, unlike last season, has come at the right time for Chicago. In 2010, Deng was still a capable, 17-20 points-per-game scorer, but those points would mostly come in the opening two quarters.
Against the Lakers, he had a game-high nine in the 4th quarter and had 10 in the third quarter at the Warriors when the Bulls tried to make a run.
Rose wasn't scoring, but Deng, the de facto number two option, was firing away like he hadn't had five months off.
With Rose not being himself, Boozer alternating from a top scorer and a harmless shooter—12 points against L.A., six against Golden StateDeng will be crucial in preventing the Bulls going into a tailspin this early in the year.
The 2010-11 NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks are 0-2. They have lost by a combined 33 points over two games against the Miami Heat and Denver Nuggets. They have trailed by 33 to the Heat and 35 to the Nuggets 24 hours later, both times in the third quarter.
Factor in the two preseason losses to Oklahoma City, and they have trailed by at least 23 points in every game they have played since they hoisted the Larry O'Brien trophy last June.
There is no offense. There is no defense. There is no conditioning. There is no chemistry and no determination. I would even go so far to say there is even a lack of professionalism, given that the Mavs have lost both of these games in their own house.
Just one Dallas player has acquitted himself, and that was Sean Williams.
He has already had his first chance in the NBA four years ago, but ended up in the D-League. Now, he's got his second chance in Dallas and he left everything on the court, not just figuratively as he vomited near the bench as he left the court—a sign of just how much effort he put in.
Things are only marginally better over at the Staples Center, where the Lakers, all of a sudden the least-exciting NBA team in Los Angeles, have also stumbled to an 0-2 start to their new era.
Hall-of-Fame coach Phil Jackson left at the end of the season, Lamar Odom is now in Dallas and Andrew Bynum is suspended. The sky is not quite falling down for the Lakers, but with a third game coming tonight against the Utah Jazz following back-to-back losses to the Bulls and the Sacramento Kings, the Lakers are off to their worst start in nine years.
Kobe has already picked up a wrist injury to add to his long-standing knee and finger issues.
Pau Gasol is currently keeping the Lakers from looking like a full-scale disaster zone.
The biggest plus the Bulls have going forward is the workaholic attitude of their head coach, Tom Thibodeau. "Thibs"—as the players call him—pioneered Boston's title-winning defense and was responsible for making the Bulls intimidating and resolute defenders.
This Bulls' team needs time, and it needs some work this year to get near to the level of performance we witnessed last year.
Thibodeau is the perfect man for the task. He spends his life watching tape of performances, he doesn't beat around the bush when it comes to talking about poor performances and he has the patience and the knowledge to turn this around.
With the main issue appearing to be a lack of effort, Thibodeau's work ethic will help turn things around.