After a bit of a lull (and a couple inexcusable losses), the Bulls begin a spate of high-profile, high-intensity showdowns against fellow Eastern Conference contenders to end the month of Friday night as they travel to the Capital and face off against John Wall and the Washington Wizards. While the continued stellar play of Jimmy Butler and Pau Gasol is surely reason enough to watch, it’ll be a couple of absences that will most authoritatively dictate the pace of this game. First, the continued absence of Mike Dunleavy to ankle problems. He has an MRI set for tomorrow morning after news broke that the healing isn’t progressing. Secondly, the absence of the *real* Derrick Rose (or the horrifying possibility that the guy who’s shot 25% from the floor over his last six games is just who he is now) is the focus of this team, fairly or not.
No one seems to notice or care that Joakim Noah, defending First Team All-NBA Center, is playing nearly as poorly as Rose. During Wednesday’s loss to Utah, Noah allowed Rudy Gobert to do essentially whatever he wanted. While giving up rebounds and positioning to the basketball player that most closely resembles an Ent is understandable, that Noah has been such a non-factor of both sides of the ball this far past his offseason surgery does not bode well. In fact, with the emergence of Nikola Mirotic and the existence of Cameron Bairstow and Nazr Mohammed, one could argue that the Bulls might be better suited sitting Noah for a couple weeks to allow him to heal. Unless, of course, this is something that won’t heal that simply and this is just who Noah is at this point.
At the expense of sort of overlooking the Wizards, who are a very good and tough team with a bevy of role players, a rough and tumble frontcourt and one of the best point guards in the league, what this stretch of games against the top of the Eastern Conference will tell us most is if the Bulls are who they are now (a contender in the East but hardly a real danger) or if what they *could* be (the best Bulls team since 1998) is still in play.
Key Matchup(s): Derrick Rose vs John Wall
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