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10 observations: Bulls, Zach LaVine struggle in season-opening loss to Thunder

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The Chicago Bulls opened their season with a 124-104 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder Wednesday night at the United Center.

It's not a good sign when this is heard after the first game.

"I don’t feel like we played with enough heart. And that’s on us. It’s a terrible way to come out to start the season," Zach LaVine said. "It’s unacceptable. I don’t think it’s a thing people do on purpose either. We gotta come together during those (opponent) runs."

Here are 10 observations from the loss:

---LaVine endured a rough night. He shot 4-for-16 with four turnovers and three fouls. He also attempted six first-quarter free throws in an attempt to get going offensively, making all six, but didn’t travel to the line again. As explosive as LaVine looked in the preseason, he struggled with his decision-making and ball security in a debut he’d like to forget.

"I missed a couple shots," LaVine said. "I didn’t feel like I struggled. I got to the foul line pretty easily and then got in some foul trouble and didn’t get to play in the second quarter."

---Nikola Vucevic finished with 11 points and nine rebounds but took just eight shots and expressed frustration on the bench after getting pulled in the third quarter for rest. This followed a stretch in which Vucevic didn’t attempt a shot for a full quarter bridging the second and third quarters, as well as receiving a technical foul for throwing the ball against the basket stanchion in frustration following a defensive breakdown by the team. Vucevic and coach Billy Donovan exchanged strong words on the bench as Vucevic expressed his frustration.

---Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a star who will terrorize many opposing defenses this season. And the Bulls struggled to control him, particularly in the first half when he posted 17 points and four assists in 18 minutes. Donovan has talked about needing to guard teams and players collectively, which the Bulls did to great success last season in posting a top-five defense. But Gilgeous-Alexander consistently exploited screen-and-roll situations to create odd-man advantages for the Thunder. Patrick Williams started on Gilgeous-Alexander. But Alex Caruso took turns on him, as did Coby White. Gilgeous-Alexander finished with 31 points and 10 assists.

"We didn't help enough," Vucevic said.

---The Bulls finished 12-for-42 from 3-point range for 28.6 percent. They shot just 6-for-23 in the first half and perhaps one shot symbolized their futility. Torrey Craig, who was otherwise very solid and all over the court, caught a swing pass and lined up a wide-open corner 3-pointer only to hit the side of the backboard. That marked Craig’s only first-half miss as he accounted for half the Bulls’ first-half 3-pointers. Meanwhile, the Thunder connected on 19-for-39 from beyond the arc. Overall, the Bulls shot just 41.5 percent.

---LaVine struggled particularly in the first half other than getting to the free-throw line. He missed his first five shots, including four 3-pointers, and committed four turnovers with three fouls in his first 10 minutes. One of these fouls came following a successful challenge from Thunder coach Mark Daigneault. LaVine originally thought he was going to the line for two free throws but instead got called for an offensive foul on Isaiah Joe following video review. LaVine sat the final 10 minutes of the first half with three fouls.

"I asked (Donovan) and he said it was about the foul trouble. He didn’t want me to get my fourth," LaVine said. "You understand that. You just want to be on the floor."

---Andre Drummond did Andre Drummond things during an eventful six-minute, first-half stint. He dunked home a nifty Patrick Williams pass off a well-executed, out-of-bounds play drawn up by Donovan---but drew a technical foul for hanging on the rim. Later, he stole the ball from Chet Holmgren, making his NBA debut, near the top of the key and lumbered down the court to break Holmgren’s ankles with a crossover dribble and layup.

---In fact, the game featured a trio of rarely-seen technical fouls. Drummond received his for hanging on the rim. Thunder’s Lu Dort drew one for flopping under the new NBA rule. And Vucevic received one for throwing the ball against the basket stanchion in frustration following a blown defensive coverage by the Bulls.

---White picked up two quick fouls by the 9 minute, 47 second mark of the first quarter. Donovan often rolls the dice when a player does this. And this time, it worked. White played an additional 3:37 without picking up his third until Jevon Carter entered along with Alex Caruso as the first substitutes. Caruso entered for LaVine, who returned as the “staggered” starter to play against some of the Thunder reserves.

---Donovan did use a 10-man rotation. But with LaVine staggered to draw some minutes against reserves, Ayo Dosunmu landed as the odd man out. He played just six minutes until mop-up time. In the second half, Donovan switched to DeRozan as the starter who staggered to play some minutes against Thunder reserves.

---Last season, keeping Caruso healthy served as a primary organizational goal because of the reckless abandon with which Caruso plays. In fact, he sprawled on the floor in pursuit of a loose ball on his first possession after entering the game. Last season, he appeared in a career-high 67 games while averaging 23.5 minutes. Donovan said while there’s no set minutes limit, a similar plan is in place for this season. “I think when he certainly gets up into the high 20s, low 30s on a consistent basis, that’s where generally there can be some issues,” Donovan said. “Certainly you’re going to have games that go into overtime and he’s going to need to part of it. But you want to try to keep him in that mid-20 range to protect him and have him available for games.”

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