After finishing their seven-game Western Conference Road trip with a 5-2 record, the Chicago Bulls are feeling pretty good about themselves. And they should be. After all, they became the first NBA team to ever beat five straight winning teams on a single road trip. That’s a heck of a lot better than being on the wrong side of history.
However, let’s not get too excited. Not quite yet, anyway. After all, Joakim Noah (plantar fasciitis), Taj Gibson (ditto) and Brad Miller (sore knee) sat out of practice yesterday. And the Bulls have some work to do before they can get any rest.
From tomorrow through February 10 — Chicago’s last night on the job before the All-Star break — the Bulls have six games. They play three bad teams, one mediocre team, and two of the top three teams in their conference. A strong push could put the Bulls in a great position for the second half of the season.
Versus the Los Angeles Clippers:
The Clips (20-27) are coming off back-to-back-to-back blowout losses against the league’s two worst teams (the New Jersey Nets and Minnesota Timberwolves) and its best (the Cleveland Cavaliers). As usual, it’s a bad time to be a member of The Other L.A. Team.
But the Bulls need to beware. Wounded animals are always dangerous. Especially when they have big, sharp, pointy teeth…which the Clippers don’t now that I think about it. They rank 24th in Offensive Rating (103.8) and 18th in Defensive Rating (107.7). If the Bulls are going to make the playoffs and maybe earn the fifth or sixth seed, they pretty much have to win at home against bad teams.
Considering the amount of talent they have on the roster, the 76ers (16-31) are one of the league’s most disappointing teams. But, again, they have a lot of talent on the roster, including former Bull Elton Brand. Chicago will need to take care of the ball, because Philly ranks 6th in Opponents’ Turnover Percentage (.143).
The Hawks (30-16) are the third-best team in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls (23-22) are a half-game out of sixth. See where I’m going with this? There’s a very distinct possibility these teams could meet in the first round of the NBA playoffs. Chicago would be well-served by a very strong effort, especially since they lost 118-83 the last time they faced Atlanta’s Air Force on the road. The Bulls will need a particularly strong defensive showing, considering the Hawks rank 4th in Offensive Rating (111.4).
Versus the Miami Heat:
The Heat (24-23) have been on-again, off-again all season. They’re only 5-5 in their last ten games, and four of those wins were against bad teams (the Wizards, Pacers, Kings and Pistons). Plus, Mario Chalmers (partially torn ligament in left thumb), Michael Beasley (hyperextended right knee) and Dwyane Wade (back spasms) are all hurt.
Meanwhile, the Bulls — thanks to the emergence of newly minted All-Star Derrick Rose — are a team on the rise. Which mean, of course, there may not be a better time to audition the team for Chicago native and free-agent-to-be Dwyane Wade. Memo to D-Wade: You really can come home again.
The Pacers (16-32) are bad. They’re one of only three teams (along with the Nets and Timberwolves) with a worse offensive rating than the Bulls (101.1 versus 101.6). And while Chicago currently ranks 9th in Defensive Rating (104.2), Indy is 16th (106.9). Let’s hope that defensive edge is enough. It was when the Bulls beat the Pacers 104-95 in Chicago back on December 29.
Versus the Orlando Magic:
The Bulls faced the Magic at home on January 2…and they won 101-93. Of course, Orlando is currently 2nd in the East while the Bulls are ranked 7th. In other words, this is another potential playoff preview. And although I know it’s a little early to be talking about the playoffs, the fact that “Bulls” and “playoffs” can appear in the same sentence feels kind of good.
Anyway, the Magic currently rank 1st in Defensive Rebounding Percentage (,776), fourth in Effective Field Goal Percentage (.522), 5th in Defensive Rating (103.0) and 5th in Opponents Effective Field Goal Percentage (.477). In other words, this is going to be a tough one.