Wait, wait, wait. Let me try to wrap my head around this craziness: The Bulls — who arrived in Detroit a mere 2-11 on the road and hadn’t won away from home in six long weeks – strolled into the Palace of Auburn Hills, took early command of their game against the Pistons, and built a 20-point fourth quarter lead (87-67 off a Ty Thomas dunk with 7:01 left) before coasting to a shockingly easy victory?
Okay. Who are these guys and what have they done to the real Chicago Bulls?
Said Joakim Noah: “This feels good. I think we are just playing better basketball right now for whatever reason.”
For whatever reason…and what exactly are the reasons? Maybe the team is rallying around their embattled coach. (I doubt that, but who knows?) Maybe it’s the return of Tyrus Thomas, who has significantly improved the team’s offense, defense and depth. Since his return from forearm surgery, Thomas has been aggressive, energetic and focused. Against the Pistons, his intensity led to 14 free throw attempts. That’s huge for a team that currently ranks 26th in Free Throw Attempts Per Game (22.5).
I would say 16 PPG, 10 RPG and 2 BPG in three games back is pretty good. More importantly, the Bulls are now 3-0 since Ty’s return, and 5-2 on the season when he suits up.
Another reason for the upswing has been a steady improvement in team defense. Remember, Chicago began the season playing pretty solid D before temporarily forgetting what “hand in the face” means. From November 19 through December 9, the Bulls gave up 100+ points in eight out of 10 games, including four games in which they surrendered at least 110. Opposing teams were basically forming a conga line to the hoop. Since then, Chicago has allowed 100 points only twice in 10 games: once to the Boston Celtics (who are pretty good) and once (quite infamously) to the Kings.
Sure, the Bulls have played some stinkers during this recent stretch (Pacers, Knicks, Warriors, etc.), but they’ve also held quality opponents like the Hawks and Lakers below 100 points. And, very quietly, Chicago has climbed back into the top 10 in Defensive Efficiency, a category in which they currently rank 9th (102.0 Points Allowed Per 100 Possessions).
Seems worth noting.
Then too the Bulls have been getting much improved play from Derrick Rose, who after last night’s 22-point effort against the Pistons has scored 20+ points in six of the last eight games. In November, Rose was averaging 16.2 points, 5.3 assists and 2.9 rebounds. Derrick’s December numbers are 20.2 PPG, 6.1 APG and 3.8 RPG. As you can see, he’s been picking it up a little. Part of his improvement has been physical, as he finally recovered from his preseason ankle injury. Another part has seemingly been mental, as Rose must have realized he has to be The Man now for the Bulls to succeed.
Where does that leave the Bulls now? I’m not sure. There are some dark shadows on the horizon, as the team must play 13 of their next 20 games on the road, including a seven-game Western Conference road trip. This stretch includes games in Boston, Phoenix, Houston, San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Atlanta. And our next home game — on Saturday against the Orlando Magic — could get ugly.
I’m just sayin’…the Bulls aren’t out of the woods yet.
The Good, the Bad, and the Joakim:
Noah had another monstrous game (15 points, 5-or-8, 21 rebounds, 4 assists), but turned the ball over a ghastly 8 times. Jo’s miscues included back-to-back steals by Tayshaun Prince that he converted into layups to tie the game at 33-all in the second quarter.
Off the bench:
John Salmons wasn’t exactly happy about losing his starting job to Kirk Hinrich, but the move seems to be working. Salmons has back-to-back 17 point games in which he has gone 11-for-18 from the field and 5-for-8 from beyond the arc.
Former Bull factor:
Ben Gordon scored 21 points on 7-for-16 shooting (including 3-for-8 from downtown). But the most important number is that BG is now 0-2 against the Bulls this season. Oh, and Ben Wallace had 2 points, 9 boards, and 2 blocked shots.