When the Bulls host the San Antonio Spurs on Monday they’ll be seeing a team that’s been able to morph successfully into different styles of play.
At various points of their era of excellence under coach Gregg Popovich, the Spurs have won with a defense-first mentality meant to grind out victories. And as their personnel has evolved they’ve turned into a group that wins with a flowing and well-oiled offense.
“(Popovich has) been awesome at that,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said.
That ability to transform is something these Bulls could probably learn from when they return to the United Center after going 2-2 on the circus trip.
Fourteen games into their new era, the Bulls still look a lot like the old Tom Thibodeau era where defense and uglier games are the norm. Sure, they’ve been hurt by the absence of Mike Dunleavy because of back surgery and Derrick Rose’s crooked shooting because of his vision problems, but the switch into their new offensive hasn’t yielded results yet.
Entering play Sunday the Bulls were 27th in the league in offensive efficiency, ahead of only the Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers. That’s not the company they want to keep, but at least the Bulls are 9-5 and nowhere near where they think they’ll end up despite forgettable games like Friday’s 104-92 loss at Indiana.
“It’s been positive. We’re definitely going to have to bring our best effort to have a chance to beat (the Spurs),” Pau Gasol said. “They’re rolling, I think they’ve won five in a row now. They’ve got a lot of depth. So it’s going to take our best effort to beat them.”
That’s been true of any team that’s played the Spurs during the Popovich/Tim Duncan era. Even as players and styles have come and gone, San Antonio’s been a measuring-stick team for much of the NBA.
“The big thing is the buy-in that that team has. They do such a good job of playing to their roles and to their strengths and getting guys the ball in the right spots on the floor and playing off it,” Hoiberg said. “It’s very admirable what Gregg Popovich has done. He’s the best coach in the game and I don’t think you could get anybody to say otherwise.”
They’ve stayed good even as Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have aged, and have been able to add pieces like LaMarcus Aldridge and David West to a roster and franchise that expects to win. They’ve integrated younger players into their system and have watched them mesh well with the culture.
But they’ve also been able to adapt and adjust over a period that’s seen the NBA shift from the slower and more physical late 1990s into the wide-open game it is now.
“The Spurs are a machine. They’re playing great basketball on both ends. The biggest thing with them is the consistency they have with their offense and their defense,” Hoiberg said. “Those guys have been together for so long. I think it’s kind of the model that everyone is looking for, to be able to have that type of roster and sustain success while keeping your core group together as long as they have.
“They’re a fun team to watch the way that ball moves, as unselfish as they are. They play to their strengths. They defend every night,” Hoiberg added. “It’s a great team to try to model after.”
Notes: Hoiberg said Dunleavy had a “little bit” of soreness and will see a doctor Monday. Hoiberg added there would be more of an update after.
– Aaron Brooks (left hamstring) did a little in half-court during practice but sat out the full-court portions. Kirk Hinrich (hip pointer) “didn’t do much” Sunday and is questionable for Monday.