Three things to know: Bulls are 4-0 for first time since Jordan era

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Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks going that make the NBA great.

1) Bulls start 4-0 and doing it with defense

The last time the Chicago Bulls started 4-0, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman led a lock-down defense that was one of the NBA’s elite, on a team that went on to win 69 games and an NBA title.

This season’s new-look Bulls are 4-0 after hanging on to beat the Raptors Monday. Just like that legendary Jordan team, these Bulls have done it with defense, too. This season, Chicago has surrendered less than a point per possession (a 97.1 defensive net rating, via Cleaning the Glass).

It’s flipped the expectations of these Bulls on their heads. With Zach LaVine coming off the Olympics and gunning for a max contract, with proven NBA scorers DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic, and with Lonzo Ball now at the point, this was expected to be an outstanding offensive team. Instead, through four games, they’ve been average on that end (despite going against some soft defenses).

Instead, it’s the Bulls’ defense that is winning them games. Coach Billy Donovan is closing games with Alex Caruso because of his defense (sitting Patrick Williams), and Lonzo Ball has been critical on that end as well.

These Bulls have been fun and looked genuinely good to open the season, but the questions linger. Chicago has a lot to prove.

Chicago simply hasn’t played anyone good yet — they have beaten teams that are a combined 2-9 this season and are banged up. Chicago beat Cade-less Detroit twice, Zion-less New Orleans, and Siakam-less Toronto.

And they almost didn’t beat Toronto Monday because of a sloppy fourth quarter with seven turnovers and some terrible shot selection. When Toronto upped its defensive pressure, Chicago wilted. The Bulls blew a 20-point lead midway through the third quarter and were in a fight late, and had it not been for the steadying hand of DeRozan — who has played a lot of other big games in Toronto — the Bulls might have had their first loss. As it was, Fred VanVleet got a good look at a three to send this game to overtime and just sailed it long.

The Bulls may be 4-0, but because of their schedule we don’t know how good they really are — yet. However, that is about to change. Chicago’s next six games are New York, Utah, Boston, Philadelphia (twice) and Brooklyn. Those games will be a real test for this defense, and the Chicago offense will need to be more than pedestrian.

That said, the Bulls have beaten the teams in front of them so far, and done it with defense. It’s the most promising start in the Windy City in a long, long time.

2) Tatum, Brown combine for 71 points, Celtics beat Hornets in OT

For a while Monday night it looked like we would have two unbeaten teams still in the East, with Charlotte leading Boston by a dozen midway through the fourth. Lonzo Ball has taken a step forward in his second season and had 25 points and nine assists, while Miles Bridges continued his hot play to start the season with 25 of his own.

But Boston had the Jays.

Jayson Tatum scored 41 and Jaylen Brown added 30, and behind that duo the Celtics closed the gap and forced overtime, where Boston pulled away for the 140-129 win. It’s what Boston needed after an embarrassing loss to Toronto the previous game.

The Celtics got 23 points from Dennis Schroder, who started with Al Horford out for the night, and the Time Lord Robert Williams had 12 points, 16 rebounds, and a powerful dunk in overtime.

Boston is 2-2 but hasn’t consistently impressed on either end of the court for new coach Ime Udoka. Still, there have been stretches of strong play, like the second half of the fourth quarter and overtime on Monday night. Boston just needs to string more of that together.

Charlotte is 3-1 to start the season, and with a healthy Gordon Hayward plus Bridges making a leap, the Hornets have one of the best offenses in the NBA so far. Get just a few more stops and this team will look a lot more threatening.

3) Free throw attempts are at an all-time low to start season

Through four games, James Harden has taken a total of 12 free throws. Last season he averaged 7.3 free throw attempts per game, and go back to 2020 and before and he averaged double-digit free throw attempts per game for five straight years.

Harden was among the most effective foul hunters in the NBA. However, this season, referees were given new instructions to crack down on “abnormal, abrupt, or overt movements” to draw fouls — non-basketball moves designed to draw a whistle. Three-point shooters leaping unnaturally forward or sideways into defenders, or kicking their legs out unnaturally, are no longer getting the whistle.

It’s not just working on Harden — through the first six days of the NBA season (not including Monday’s games), free throws per game are at an all-time low, as Tweeted out by StatsMuse.

We have to note this is some small sample size theater and that players will adjust and adapt to how the game is called. The best players will figure out how to get to the line more than they are right now.

Also, the trend of 3-pointers increasing is continuing, with teams averaging 36.3 3-pointers a game this season, up from 34.6 last season. With the new rules reducing fouls on jump shooters, these 3s are not leading to as many four-point plays.

Still, free throws are down to start the season, and that has been good for the flow of the game.

Highlight of the night:

Back to Boston, where the Hornets pushed the Celtics, but in overtime Jaylen Brown emphatically shut the door with a nasty slam over Miles Bridges.

Credit to Bridges for handling this well.

Last night’s scores:

Boston 140, Charlotte 129 (OT)
Milwaukee 119, Indiana 109
Atlanta 122, Detroit 104
Brooklyn 104, Washington 90
Miami 107, Orlando 90
Chicago 111, Toronto 108
New Orleans 107, Minnesota 98
Cleveland 99, Denver 87
L.A. Clippers 116, Portland 86

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Three things to know: Bulls are 4-0 for first time since Jordan era originally appeared on NBCSports.com