By Paul M. Banks
Since falling to 10-17 on December 22nd, the Chicago Bulls’ low water mark of the season, the team has gone 16-9. Chicago began the second half of the season 2-0 (granted it was against the lowly New York Knicks) and today they find themselves 27-26 and currently holding the #6 seed. They’re just two games behind Toronto for the #5 slot, a position that could give them a very reasonable shot at winning a playoff series.
We all know the deals they made on NBA Trading Deadline Thursday were much more about clearing cap space for the much-hyped off-season signing period than about winning now. And they accomplished that mission, as the team now has more cap space to work with this summer, but what about their prospects down the stretch of this season?
The Bulls sent SG John Salmons, 2011 and 2012 2nd round picks, option to swap first round pick with Bulls in 2010 (top ten protected) for PF Hakim Warrick and F Joe Alexander. The Bulls also got G Flip Murray, PG Acie Law, Protected future 1st round pick from the Bobcats for PF Tyrus Thomas. On paper, they seem to be talent wise not that different from where they were before making those trades.
The East is essentially Lebron’s conference, we all know that. And for the first half of the season, it looked like the top four were set: Cleveland, Orlando, Boston, Atlanta.
But maybe not so much anymore as the Celtics are aging rapidly, and their window is quickly closing. Atlanta has cooled down a little bit- after a red hot start.
Of course, to stay in their playoff position and/or move up, the Bulls will have to fight off their two trading partners (Charlotte and Milwaukee) who are currently bunched up with them in the standings. However, I think Chicago has some advantages going for them that the Bucks and Bobcats do not. The Bulls currently lead the NBA in rebounding at 45.5 boards a game, and they’ve continued to do so even despite their leading man on the glass, Joakim Noah, missing the last 7 games with plantar fascisitis.
Chicago is also first in the league in blocks by a pretty wide margin, and 4th in defensive field goal percentage, so this team has some steady constants going for it. Now if they can just take those reliable qualities and build on them. Someone needs to help step up on offense, as this team often goes through nasty scoring droughts in the 3rd and 4th quarters.
On December 29th, they were 29th out of 30 NBA teams in scoring (91 ppg, and field goal % (.428). However, the last 7 weeks have been kind to their offense, and Chicago is now 26th (96.2 ppg) and 25th in fg % (.444).
Losing Tyrus Thomas will probably negatively affect those rebounding and blocks numbers, as Thomas’ amazing leaping ability and athleticism helped out immensely in that department. However, he never developed a desire or discipline to actually get a real NBA offensive game, so I see Hakim Warrick as an upgrade over Thomas in the scoring department.
“We need Joakim healthy, we know that; and monitor Derrick and stay healthy that’s obviously a big issue,” Bulls Head Coach Vinny Del Negro said Wednesday night. Exactly, the Bulls All-Star, point guard Derrick Rose is their franchise player. He’s made huge strides this season, and he must remain healthy if he’s going to develop further, and take this team to the next level. So how banged up is he?
“He is going to be sore. It’s a bone bruise, and will take a awhile to go away. Derrick is a tough kid. I told him I hope he continues to be sore if he shoots that way,” Del Negro said following a game in which Rose shot 14-18 from the field for 29 points, and the Bulls hammered the New York Knicks by 30. Rose followed it up with 27 points the next night, when they again beat the Knicks, this time at Madison Square Garden.
“I’m sore a little bit, but I just had to play through it. It’s a bruise that will go away and it should start feeling better tomorrow,” Rose told me Wednesday night.
As for Noah, he’s the next most valuable Bull as he’s one of the elite group of NBA players averaging a double double on the season. He did not travel with the team on this road trip and remains to day-to-day. But then again aren’t we all?
By winning at New Orleans on January 29th the Bulls became the first team in NBA history to get five straight road wins over teams with winning records.
“I think we need to start playing a little bit better at home. We’ve been a little bit more consistent on the road which I’m excited about . I thought we let a few games slip away at home and that’s going to really determine our outcome as the season continues here,” Coach Del Negro said.
This season, the Bulls are first in the NBA in attendance, after ranking second the past two years. They’ve sold out 14 games this season, as well as 125 of their last 153. They also hold the highest average attendance in the NBA during the past decade. Hopefully, that home cooking will push a few possible Ls into the W column down the stretch.