Last week, Luol Deng joined Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Jerry Sloan and Tom Boerwinkle as the only players in franchise history to appear in 10 seasons with the Bulls.
Friday night, Deng came a Nazr Mohammed missed reverse layup away from joining more franchise lore.
Deng narrowly missed becoming the 25th Bull to post a triple double, settling for 19 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists in a 97-73 victory over the hapless Jazz. And, yes, Jordan, Pippen, Sloan and Boerwinkle all had at least one.
Shortly after Mohammed’s miss, Jimmy Butler replaced Deng, who was appearing in his 619th career regular-season game. Deng also added five steals.
“I told him I was shooting every time he passed to me,” said Mohammed, who also launched a quick 15-foot elbow jumper off a Deng feed. “I wanted it badly for him.”
Beyond individual accomplishments, the Bulls showed some positive signs coming out of their underwhelming, 1-3 start, albeit against the league’s only winless team. They bettered 50 percent for the first time, shooting 52.8 percent with 56 points in the paint and 16 fast-break points.
“We really needed this,” Deng said. “Being 1-3 doesn’t speak for how hard we work. We came in focused.”
They also held the Jazz to 29.4 percent shooting. Last season, they only held one team all season below 30 percent and that didn’t come until January.
“We still have a lot of corrections we have to make,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “One game doesn’t mean everything is straightened out.”
Joakim Noah dunked off a pretty feed from Deng on the game’s first possession. Derrick Rose swished a 3-pointer and scored on 6-foot-11 Enes Kanter on the Bulls’ next two. All five starters scored in the first six minutes as the ball moved with precision.
The Bulls still struggled with turnovers, finishing with 21. They committed seven during a three-minute, second-quarter stretch that almost prompted Thibodeau to turn over the scorer’s table.
“We have to get that number down to 13 or less,” Thibodeau said.
But ultimately, Carlos Boozer joined Deng in double-double land, posting 18 points and 10 rebounds in just 24 minutes. Rose added 12 points with five assists in just 27 minutes and didn’t appear in the fourth.
Overall, no starter but Deng logged heavy minutes because of the blowout. Whether this is a good development given the rust Thibodeau keeps alluding to is debatable. The Bulls don’t play again until Monday.
“The good thing is the win,” Thibodeau said. “But you want to try to improve.”
The Bulls insist that improvement started with two strong practices before the fourth-quarter collapse in Indiana. Friday’s victory brought more tangible proof.
“It feels good seeing us execute some of our offense and just get in a groove,” Rose said. “But it’s just one game. We have to try to keep it going.”