DenzelStrut
Denzel Valentine struts his way down the court after hitting a clutch 3 to help the Bulls beat the L.A. Clippers, 109-106.

It was the longest week of the season: Five games in seven days, with back-to-backs bookending the week. As poorly as the Bulls have been playing, I expected maybe one win out of this week. My expectations were doubled. The Bulls managed a 2-3 record this past week, a week which featured their worst loss and one of their best wins of the season separated by a mere 24 hours. Now 10-18 on the season, this Bulls team remains as frustrating as ever.

The Look Back:

-The week kicked off last Sunday with a 110-105 overtime loss to the Miami Heat. Miami rookie, Tyler Herro, played up to his name drilling clutch 3 after clutch 3 and sealing a hard fought victory for the Heat. While the end result was discouraging, the Bulls played well, and if a play or two had gone their way, they could have easily walked away with a victory. Six Bulls scored in double figures, but they couldn’t muster enough offense in OT to get the job done.

-Monday saw the Bulls lose another close game. The Toronto Raptors squeaked out a 93-92 win over the Bulls. It was the Daniel Gafford and Denzel Valentine show for most of the game. The two reserves played a deadly duet of lob and shoot combining for 27 points between the two of them. The game stayed close for its entirety, hinging on a last second drive by Zach LaVine. He beat his defender off the dribble and charged to the hoop. Raptor center, Marc Gasol, was forced to leave Daniel Gafford wide-open under the rim in order to contest the driving LaVine. For some inexplicable reason LaVine forced his shot over the hulking Gasol instead of dishing the ball off to the open Gafford for the easy dunk and win. LaVine’s shot caromed off the backboard, no foul was called, and the Bulls lost by one. Sigh.

 

 

-Wednesday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks offered the Bulls a chance for a win. The Bulls have really done a good job containing Trae Young this season, and with Atlanta’s young big, John Collins, still suspended for violating the leagues Performance Enhancing Drug policy, this was an opportunity to show out. The game was a wondrous blow out. The Bulls were playing with the same carefree confidence they exhibited in the preseason. The ball zipped around the offense. Zach LaVine picked up the easiest 35 points of his career. And the Bulls defense stifled Trae Young. Kris Dunn, Denzel Valentine, and Tomas Satoransky used their size and strength to overpower the undersized phenom. When the dust settled it was a massacre, 136-102, Bulls win.

 

-For every Dr. Jekyll game, the Bulls pull a Mr. Hyde, and Friday’s game versus the Charlotte Hornets was definitely a Mr. Hyde game. It was the worst loss of the season: 83-73 Hornets.

After the spectacle of 136 points on Wednesday, the Bulls waffled back to reality, fixing their average by only shooting 30% from the field on Friday, 20% from behind the 3 point line. I found myself laughing out loud as shot after shot clanged off the rim. The Bulls only scored 10 points in the third quarter. 10 points!!! And it wasn’t just the Bulls that played poorly. The Hornets shot a mere 38% from the field, 19% from beyond the 3 point line, yet still they prevailed.

Charlotte now owns a 2-1 series lead against the Bulls with a single game left to be played between the two teams this season (February 20th, in Chicago). The way these two teams have played each other this year, it feels like the beginning of a rivalry!

-Just like the Bulls this week, we’ve saved the best for last. Saturday night and the Los Angeles Clippers are in town. The Bulls can’t win this game. It would take a miracle for the Bulls to win this game. It would take something stupid like Doc Rivers resting more than half his stars for the Bulls to win this game. You won’t ever see me write this sentence ever again-Doc Rivers was stupid:

Lou Williams – Did Not Play

JaMychal Green – DNP

Patrick Beverly – DNP

Kawhi Leonard – DNP

The Bulls took full advantage of the Clippers reduced lineup, beating Paul George (27 points) and Montrezl Harrell (30 points) with inspired play from Thaddeus Young (17 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists) and a last second Zach LaVine layup-and-one, 109 – 106.

The Bulls final possession was similar to the one LaVine botched against the Raptors on Monday. He drove the lane with just seconds left in the game, intent on scoring the heroic final shot. Unlike Monday, when Marc Gasol stood his ground and forced LaVine into a silly shot, Montrezl Harrell challenged LaVine at the rim. Harrell jumped into the air, throwing his hands at the ball trying to block it as LaVine contorted to get the shot off. Harrell missed the ball, hacking LaVine, and as the ball sailed through the hoop, the whistle blew for the foul: 2 points and “won.” It was one of the best Bulls wins of the season.

The record might not reflect this fact, but the truth is, the Bulls are playing much better than they have all season. Every loss this week could have easily been a win, and they finally beat an above .500 team, albeit one that didn’t take them seriously. The disrespect Rivers showed the Bulls by resting most of his stars, bit the Clippers in the ass. As it should have.

The Bulls are a better team than their record indicates. Maybe after this win against the Clippers they’ll start to believe it.

MVP of Week 8: Denzel Valentine

 

Zach LaVine put up some nice numbers this week, but the reemergence of Denzel Valentine from out of Jim Boylen’s dog house was a real boost for the Bulls. His consistent scoring and playmaking ability off the bench has given the Bulls an extra dimension to the offense. Valentine scored in double digits 4 out of the 5 games last week, and he averaged just over 2 assists and 2 three pointers made in about 22 minutes per game.

 

 

His solid play, much like Daniel Gafford before him, begs the question, why hasn’t he been playing this season? The next question is, would it be better to start Valentine instead of Dunn? Valentine is still a defensive liability, but he can space the floor on offense and make life easier for LaVine and Lauri Markkanen on drives to the hoop. Meanwhile, Dunn could go back to the role he has excelled in this season as defensive stopper off the bench. Sounds like a win-win to me.

The Look Ahead:

After the rigors of last weeks 5 games in 7 days, the Bulls should have a much easier time with only 3 games scheduled this week.

-Monday, December 16th, the Bulls are off to Oklahoma City to face the 11-14 Thunder. OKC relies heavily on the aging Chris Paul and the young Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to generate their offense. They also have the shooting of Danilo Gallinari, the post play of Steven Adams, and the energy of Dennis Schroder off the bench to worry about. This is still a winnable game, but the Bulls must continue to play with the effort and execution they displayed last week. The new defensive and offensive schemes Jim Boylen instituted this season are becoming more innate for the Bulls, and this game against the Thunder could be a big confidence boost if it results in a win.

-Wednesday, the Bulls have a date with the Wizards in Washington D.C. This is the first meeting between the two teams in what is usually a spirited series. Washington is currently 7-17, and present another excellent opportunity for the Bulls to collect a win. Wizard star John Wall is still out, dealing with the devastating torn achilles injury he suffered last season. This is a Wizards team that is in Tank Mode, or at least in as much of a Tank Mode as any team can be after last years change to the draft lottery odds. I’m not saying they’re trying to lose, but they haven’t put a very good team together in order to win. Bradley Beal leads a roster of rookies and cast offs including Rui Hachimura, Davis Bertans, Ish Smith, etc. Let’s just say, I will be very disappointed if the Bulls do not win this game.

-The final game of the week pits the Bulls against the Detroit Pistons (11 – 15) on Saturday, December 21st in Detroit. This will be the third meeting between the two teams. The Bulls have beaten Detroit in both of their previous games, and it’s possible they can make it 3 in a row. Detroit has been playing better of late, winning 6 of their last 10 games, but nagging injuries to stars Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond threaten to derail their recent success. This should be a very competitive game between two under achieving teams. Hopefully, the Bulls will be riding some positive momentum and capture their third victory over the Pistons.

Stat of the Week: Defensive Rating 105.7 (10th in the NBA)

If you’ve been watching the Bulls and thinking to yourself, “Man, I know there are still some egregious breakdowns on defense, but their rotations have looked a lot crisper lately.” You’d be correct in your observation. The Bulls have been playing better defense lately, and are now in the top 10 of the NBA in defensive rating. They are only giving up 105.7 points per 100 possessions according to Basketball-Reference.com which is a huge jump from where they finished last season, 25th in the league with a defensive rating of 113.2. The Bulls also continue to lead the league in steals per game (9.7), opponents turnover percentage with 18% (per 100 possessions), and points off turnovers (21.4 per game).

Many people have argued that the Bulls have played weak teams and that those numbers will drop as they play stronger opponents. Maybe, but there is still the distinct possibility that the Bulls will grow more competent and confident in their defense, and continue to shut down their opponents. The blitzing defensive scheme Jim Boylen has asked the team to run is great for forcing turnovers. It makes sense that as the players get more comfortable with the system, their play will translate to better stats.

Here’s looking forward to better play and more wins next week! Until then, thanks for reading and GO BULLS!