CHICAGO – It would have been fitting if the game was going to be played on Thursday instead of Friday.
December 10th would have marked exactly nine months since the Bulls last took the court against another opponent. That happened on March 10th, when they beat the Cavaliers at the United Center just 24 hours before the season was paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since their record wasn’t good enough to qualify for the NBA’s “bubble” in Orlando, the Bulls have only had some practice in the fall and then training camp over the last week-and-a-half.
Instead, the Bulls will hit the floor again nine months and one day after their last game, facing the Rockets for the first of two exhibition games on Friday. It’s a long-awaited return for the players, who have expressed how eager they are to get back to playing a number of times since March.
At the same time, fans will be eager to see what the group has to offer with Billy Donovan at the helm. He’ll be putting nearly the same team on the floor as Jim Boylen did back on March 10th, trying to give the new front office of Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley an idea of what this particular group can offer.
But the first challenge for Donovan is balancing the team’s workload as they get ready for their first game in nine months. He’s got to get his team ready for the opener against the Hawks on December 23rd while being mindful that they’ve had a long layoff from competition.
“There is that fine line there in terms of you want them to build up of a level of endurance and stamina but at the same point, there’s times I think you have to back off and pull off,” said Donovan on balancing the team’s training camp work with the team’s situation. “Certainly for us, we rely heavily on the medical in terms of getting their input and their thoughts before and after practice and try to collaborate and work together to prepare the next day, the next practice.
“The guys have done a really good job of coming in early, just to get themselves physically ready and then staying after practice to do any maintenance or recovery work they may need.”
At the same time, he’s setting a standard for how the Bulls should prepare during the 2020-2021 season to take steps forward after three-straight playoff-less season.
“He’s been great. Very vocal, very straight-up. Bringing a winning attitude, talking to us about winning habits, and making sure the practices are competitive,” said guard Zach LaVine of Donovan. “The main thing is just coming with it everyday and you build those habit and now they’ll carry over.”
The job for Donovan is to make sure that happens safety for a team beginning its return to the court.