The Chicago Bulls wrapped up their preseason Friday night with a solid win over the Indiana Pacers, meaning that it’s time to look forward in earnest to how the Bulls will fare in the games that count. As Wednesday’s season opener against the Kings approaches, Chicago has good reason to believe they’ll hold their own—if not lead the league in wins—even in the absence of MVP Derrick Rose.

Here are the biggest factors to keep an eye on in the early going of the 2012-13 season for Tom Thibodeau’s team:

1. The offense is in surprisingly good shape

Rose’s absence increases the pressure on every other starter to make plays on offense, especially plays that would’ve been easy with Rose drawing the attention of the defense. One of the keys to that effort will be knocking down jump shots in one-on-one situations, an arena in which Chicago has displayed an uncharacteristic amount of confidence lately.

Nowhere is that confidence more important than for PF Carlos Boozer, a notoriously inconsistent offensive weapon. He closed the preseason by averaging just over 20 points per game in his last three outings, and if he can keep that momentum going, Chicago will be in a much stronger position on the offensive end.

2. But, the bench still needs a go-to scorer

Taj Gibson is one of the best sixth men in basketball, but his biggest value on offense is in crashing the boards and creating second-chance points. When it comes to first-chance points, the Bulls are still in search of replacements for high-flying Ronnie Brewer or sharp-shooting Kyle Korver.

Nate Robinson will help—once Kirk Hinrich’s groin heals and Robinson can return to the second unit—but he’s too streaky to be counted on as the only legitimate scorer among the reserves. Marco Belinelli has had every chance to claim the role, but his jump shot has not been falling in the preseason, and until it does, the Bulls will be counting on the starting five for a disproportionate share of their offense.

3. Energy is everything

So much of what makes the Bulls a successful team is predicated on working harder than the next guy. Fast-break points, offensive rebounding, scrapping for steals—all of these strengths require an enormous amount of effort on both ends of the floor.

It’s all well and good to excel in those areas in the preseason, but Chicago will be hard-pressed to maintain the same level of hustle by the time February rolls around and they’re playing their second game in back-to-back nights on the road. The Bulls have particular cause for concern here because of the age and/or injury history of several key contributors (Hinrich, Rip Hamilton and Nazr Mohammed prominent among them).

The moral of this story is that Chicago needs its bench to rise to the occasion, because every minute the starters can rest in November will pay off in the playoff push in April.

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