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Bulls' Opener Quite a Show

November 06, 2005|Mike Downey | Chicago Tribune

After years of great expectations (the Michael Jordan era) and years of huge disappointments (the Eddy Curry era), it was time Wednesday night to come check out a new-look team of Chicago Bulls.

And let's just say things got off to a pretty crazy start.

The so-so Charlotte Bobcats barely broke a sweat for three quarters -- they were up by as many as 25 points -- before a remarkable comeback by the Bulls resulted in a you've-got-to-be-kidding-me 109-105 triumph in overtime.

All of this happened after Bulls guard and captain Kirk Hinrich had to be helped off the United Center court in the second half with a sprained left ankle.

Quite a night, one that began with Hinrich addressing the crowd before the game and saying, "We're going to put a group on the floor that's going to make the city of Chicago proud."

This is the 40th season of an organization that understands all too well how fortunes can turn in a hurry.

For example, it was exactly 20 years ago last Saturday that, on the very same day, the Bulls signed a fine young guard named John Paxson as a free agent but also lost a gifted young fellow named Jordan to a broken foot.

It is a franchise of humble beginnings that developed into a dynasty, an empire, a basketball team of international renown, then regressed into a picture of mediocrity.

And now? Well, if any of you "I Love This Game" fans out there are like me, you don't have a single clue what to expect from this crew.

You came to games in the '90s absolutely sure that the Bulls were going to win. You came to games in the early 2000s relatively certain that the Bulls would lose.

Now, like the players themselves during the United Center's introductions, we are pretty much in the dark. This team could go either way -- bad or good.

Let us keep our fingers crossed that Game 1 of an 82-game season is no indication of what's to come. Because watching the way the Bulls played for three quarters was definitely no fun.

In fact, a number of people from the opening-night crowd of 19,251 didn't stick around for the finish.

A lot of us wrote off the Bulls a year ago after they dropped a season opener to the New Jersey Nets in double overtime -- a game astonishingly similar to Wednesday's.

They proceeded to go 0-9, enduring a long, long 19 days before finding a team they could beat.

But somehow, Scott Skiles' squad got its act together, racked up 47 victories, took the first two games of the NBA playoffs and definitely began to look like an NBA team of tomorrow.

Well, some teams need time.

This season's Bulls must learn how to bang beneath the basket without their biggest body, Curry's.

He was engaged elsewhere Wednesday night, throwing his weight around for the New York Knicks in a losing cause.

Meantime, the new-look Bulls unveiled a starting lineup with a couple of new wrinkles -- in particular, Darius Songaila from Lithuania.

A change at guard to Chris Duhon was the other difference from the starting five of last year's opener. Even though Ben Gordon ultimately would win the NBA's sixth man award, he actually did start for the Bulls on opening night as a rookie over Duhon.

Tyson Chandler, Andres Nocioni and Hinrich were back in Skiles' starting lineup. Curry had to sit out the 2004-05 opener because of a suspension stemming from a fight.

By halftime of Wednesday night's game, the Bulls were terribly aware that they were being outmuscled and outhustled.

Steam must have been rising off of Skiles' skull after the Bobcats stole the ball from his team a preposterous 10 times in that half.

The score stood 70-45 midway through the third period. It's a miracle that Skiles didn't yank his entire team off the floor by the jersey straps.

By nailing a half-dozen three-point shots in the final quarter, however, the Bulls cut the disadvantage to 98-95 in the last half-minute. And then a three-pointer by Songaila tied the game 98-98 with 5.1 seconds left, sending what was left of the crowd into a frenzy.

Maybe it's going to be that kind of season for all of us -- you know, exactly like that of the White Sox.

No way to know what to expect.

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