The Bulls of last season ranked 20th in the NBA in pace and 25th in defensive rating.
In other words, they didn't have enough possessions and they allowed the other team to score too frequently on theirs.
The Bulls have tried to attack those problem areas since the summer, and they saw encouraging signs during their second preseason game. The Bulls led the Pelicans 107-86 after three quarters Wednesday night. The reserves squandered the big lead in a 127-125 loss, but the play of the first two units showed the team's progress with coach Jim Boylen's mandate to play faster.
Perhaps not as noticeable, the Bulls stymied the Pelicans' offense during stretches. In about a four-minute span late in the second quarter and early in the third, the Bulls went on an 18-0 run and ran the lead to 21 points.
"I think you can tell it was a big week from Game 1 to Game 2 in preseason," said forward Thaddeus Young, a free-agent acquisition who'll face his previous team, the Pacers, Friday in Indianapolis. "At one point we were up 20 points, and it wasn't because of our offense, it was because of our defense, and that led to our offense.
"We did a really good job of coming (into camp) and understanding our 'whys' on what we needed to do on defense and why we're doing certain things on defense."
Young credited assistant coach Roy Rogers, whom Boylen added to his staff from the Rockets in the offseason, with helping establish a new defensive scheme and mindset.
The Bulls still have room for improvement, though, especially on transition defense. The Pelicans scored 24 fast-break points to the Bulls' 12.
Boylen is looking for indicators that the Bulls can improve from last season's 112.8 defensive rating (25th in the league) and 104.5 offensive rating (29th). The stats measure the points scored or allowed by a team per 100 possessions.
"Not to over-pound the numbers but in the first three quarters, we had a 98 DER," Boylen said. "On a usual year, that would be No. 1 or 2 in the league. That was (a) small sample size but it was improvement. Our OER in those three quarters was a 116, which would be No. 1, too.
"So, for three quarters, we played good basketball," said Boylen, an acknowledgement the Bulls' bench players fell flat against the Pelicans' bench, who outscored them 41-18 to close the game. "I still think we can improve a ton defensively. There are 50-50 balls we don't get. We have to go from assignment to assignment quicker."