Bulls hoping for better start against Pacers
An Indiana Pacers team finally looking like it did two seasons ago is set to hit the road for the first time Wednesday to meet a Chicago Bulls team working on an entirely new identity.
Pacers guard Victor Oladipo appeared to turn the clock back to 2018 after a trying two seasons when he was left to recover from a ruptured quad tendon in his right knee.
After playing just 36 games in the 2018-19 season and 19 last season, Oladipo scored 22 points with four rebounds and four assists in a 121-107 home victory over the New York Knicks on Wednesday.
Oladipo’s first half was rusty, much like his return from injury that started in January and continued when the Pacers’ 2019-20 season resumed in August. He made only two shots from the field in the opening two quarters Wednesday before leading the charge in the second half with 16 points on 7 of 9 shooting.
“I’m still getting stronger, getting my power back and things like that, but I’m healed,” Oladipo said. “At the end of the day, I just go out there and play aggressive, play my game, be myself and be assertive. And when I do that, everything else is just free flowing.”
The Pacers won their first game under new head coach Nate Bjorkgren after Nate McMillan got the Pacers into the playoffs in each of his four seasons but couldn’t get the team out of the first round. He was fired after the Pacers fell to the Miami Heat in last season’s opening round.
The Bulls also have a new head coach in Billy Donovan, but unlike Bjorkgren’s quest of getting his team further into the playoffs, Donovan just wants to get his squad there. The Bulls have not been to the playoffs since 2017 when they were eliminated in the first round.
One game into the Donovan era, the Bulls showed that exorcising their demons will take some time. Chicago fell 124-104 in their opener at home against the Atlanta Hawks, getting off to a brutal start when they gave up 42 points in the first quarter and 83 in the first half.
“We’ve got to get physically tougher in terms of just on the ball and having some resistance, preventing the ball from getting to the rim, then being able to close back out,” Donovan said.
“In that 40-point (first quarter), Atlanta played really well offensively. They made shots even though I didn’t think our defense was great. I don’t want to take away from what they did.”
Bulls rookie forward Patrick Williams, the No. 4 overall selection in the NBA draft, did have 16 points and four rebounds to provide a bright spot. At 19, Williams became the youngest player in Bulls history to start a season opener.
Zach LaVine scored 22 points for Chicago, while Lauri Markkanen had 21 points and seven rebounds. But after the disastrous first half, the Bulls are mostly looking to move past anything that happened in Game 1.
“The main thing is winning,” said LaVine, who had a career-best 25.5 points per game last season. “Individual things come after winning. I think over the last couple of years, you know, individually I’ve been one of the better players in the NBA when you look at it. But we didn’t get the wins, so you’re not going to get the recognition for that.”
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