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updated: 12/25/2011 10:21 PM

One ugly day, one ugly win for Bulls

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  • Derrick Rose dribbles past Lakers guard Steve Blake during the second half in Sunday's season opener in Los Angeles.

      Derrick Rose dribbles past Lakers guard Steve Blake during the second half in Sunday's season opener in Los Angeles.
    Associated Press

 
 

The Bulls know that in order to win they've got to play great defense and get huge buckets from Derrick Rose.

They just don't expect to play sluggish basketball for 47 minutes and then get exactly what they need in the final 60 seconds.

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Welcome to the post-lockout NBA.

After a long work stoppage and short training camp, it was logical to think there would be some ugly basketball on Christmas Day, but from Tom Thibodeau's Bulls you rarely anticipate the kind of game they turned in on Day 1 of the 2011-12 NBA season.

But for all the bad play Sunday, the Bulls showed up huge in the final minutes and came away with a 1-point victory over the Lakers in Los Angeles.

"We got the win. You can't ask for anything more," said Rose. "Our defense finally got going and turned it into offense."

The Bulls might have been reading about how great they were supposed to be, and how bad the Lakers would play with an injured Kobe Bryant, but the Bulls had no answer for Bryant until the final seconds.

Bryant had 28 points in 35 minutes despite a torn ligament in his wrist, and Rip Hamilton was hardly the defensive answer he was made out to be since the Bulls signed him a week ago.

In fact, Hamilton didn't do much offensively either, collecting nearly as many fouls (5) as points (6) in just 23 minutes. Joakim Noah also had 5 fouls and 6 points with 9 rebounds in 28 minutes.

Carlos Boozer had 15 points and 6 rebounds, but over the summer he certainly didn't figure out how to play defense, and Sunday he couldn't have stopped Santa Claus if the jolly old fella had spotted Boozer half a foot and 50 pounds.

Also the same was the Bulls' offense if it didn't first run through Rose, and the question of where the easy buckets would come from wasn't answered in the first game.

But that's the point worth remembering most. It was only the first game and the Bulls are going to get better.

Their defense is going to improve and so should their rebounding, though neither was great Sunday, and they need both in order to create more offense.

Instead, it took a great effort from Rose, who had 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting, and some terrific play from Luol Deng (21 points) in the final few minutes.

It was Deng's steal that led to Rose's teardrop for the game-winner, and Deng's block on Bryant at the buzzer that sealed the win, as the Bulls went on an 11-2 run to finish the game.

But the Bulls got to the free-throw line only 14 times (making 9) and Rose didn't shoot once.

So there will be a lot for Thibodeau to talk about before the Bulls face Golden State on Monday night, but even Thibodeau has to know that the Bulls without practice simply aren't Thibodeau's Bulls.

What was interesting was the way Thibodeau let them play through some awful stretches Sunday, something he was reluctant to do a year ago.

That shows growth on his part and trust in his team, which is going to do a lot of learning over the next few weeks as it incorporates Hamilton into the rotation.

And before there's panic in the streets about how the Bulls played Sunday, this season is really going to be about health and minutes.

The Bulls have less to worry about than teams like Boston and Miami, which have to be concerned about age as this season progresses, and even as good as the Heat looked Sunday in mauling Dallas, it's not about the regular season.

The teams that reach the postseason minus injuries and playing defense are going to be favored.

But that's a long time from now.

Until then, be glad the NBA's back and take Sunday's victory by the Bulls as only what it is.

One fewer game to play.

brozner@dailyherald.com

•Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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