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Bulls-Kings Preview

AP - Sports

The Chicago Bulls finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference last season in large part because of the defensive schemes installed by first-year coach Tom Thibodeau.

For Thibodeau and the Bulls to live up to the high bars they set last season, they'll need to knock the rust off of that defense.

The Bulls look to bounce back from their first loss Thursday night when they visit the Sacramento Kings.

After rallying for an 88-87 win in their season opener against the Los Angeles Lakers on Christmas Day, the Bulls (1-1) could not overcome an early deficit Monday against Golden State. Chicago gave up 20 fast-break points and 42 points in the paint in the 99-91 defeat.

"We let them get easy looks," reigning MVP Derrick Rose said. "In the first quarter, we've got to find a way to stop people. Guys that we know can score the ball, they're getting too many easy looks."

Rose also struggled on offense, going 4 for 17 from the field and finishing with 13 points. But the Bulls' primary focus is recommitting to their defensive mindset from last season, when they led the league in opponents' field goal percentage (43.0) and ranked second in opponents' scoring (91.3 points per game) en route to 62 wins.

The Bulls' first two opponents this season have shot 47.1 percent.

"We're not going to get to where we want to get to playing defense like that," center Joakim Noah told the team's official website after the Bulls committed 20 turnovers and forced only 10 against the Warriors. "We have to improve. It's frustrating. Our defense was just bad."

The Bulls will try to better execute their defensive plan against a young Sacramento team coming off a poor offensive showing. After beating the Lakers 100-91 in their opener Monday, the Kings (1-1) were outscored 55-33 in the second half of a 101-79 loss at Portland on Tuesday.

Sacramento's starters went 17 for 49 (34.7 percent) from the field in the game, and the Kings were 9 of 38 (23.7) in the second half.

"We had our moments in the first 16, 18, 20 minutes, then we fell apart," coach Paul Westphal said. "This was a step in our development that was painful. We got taught by a more experienced team that is far above us now."

The Kings could have similar struggles against the Bulls, who have won five of the last six meetings including a 132-92 rout in the most recent matchup March 21. Eight Chicago players scored at least 11 points in that game as the Bulls shot 61.3 percent and recorded their highest point total since April 14, 2008.

Bulls forward Luol Deng scored 17 points while making 5 of 9 shots in that game. He has averaged 20.2 points and shot 55.1 percent in his last five contests against Sacramento.

Kings guard Marcus Thornton, coming off a 5-for-15 performance against the Trail Blazers, has averaged 23.0 points and shot 58.5 percent in his last three games against the Bulls, going 10 for 15 from 3-point range.

Since being traded to the Kings in February, Thornton has averaged 25.1 points and shot 50.3 percent in 11 Sacramento wins. He has been held to 18.8 points and shot 42.3 percent in 18 losses.

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