A Rough Week

The Bulls went 2-3 this week dropping games against the Indiana Pacers, Houston Rockets, and Miami Heat. Their two wins came against the New York Knicks and Orlando Magic. I was feeling very apprehensive going into the week, the schedule makers did the Bulls no favors putting 5 games in 7 days after a brutal West Coast road trip. And as I feared, the 3 losses made their mark. The Bulls started the week on top of the Eastern Conference. They are now a game and a half behind the Brooklyn Nets, and in 4th place. While the pace of games lightens this week, the caliber of the Bulls’ opponents does not. They face the surging Charlotte Hornets on Monday, the ever dangerous New York Knicks on Thursday, and the 1st place Brooklyn Nets on Friday. One thing’s for sure, wherever the Bulls end up at the end of this season, they will have earned it.

According to Power Rankings Guru’s strength of schedule data, the Bulls have played a pretty mediocre to light schedule this season (ranked 20th most difficult so far), and have an even more mediocre schedule ahead of them (15th most difficult). That data feels off to me, but this is the first time in a handful of years where every game counts for the Bulls. The way the East is playing out, that rough loss to Houston in the middle of last week could be the difference between the Bulls playing playoff games on the road, or, worst case scenario, having to compete in the play-in tournament.

It’s funny to think that a “worst case scenario” involves the Bulls HAVING to compete in the play-in tournament. The last two seasons they would have killed to make it to the play-in. Now, the Bulls have a 76.5% chance of making it to the post season (Power Rankings Guru), oh how expectations change.

Positives of the Week

– Nikola Vucevic has returned to the Bulls after clearing Covid Protocols. And just as important, his confidence in his shot seems to have returned as well. Before his stint on the Covid list, he had been missing a lot “bunnies” at the rim. Since returning from Covid, he’s shot 13-26 from inside the 3 point line for 50%. His demeanor appears to have improved when he has the ball in the post. He is no longer grimacing and talking to himself, his post moves are smooth and purposeful, controlled and confident. As a result of this confidence, his baby hooks are finally going in.

– Coby White is starting to shake the rust off his game. White had a huge 4th quarter against the Knicks last Sunday that helped cement the Bulls victory. With each game back, he’s becoming more familiar with the flow of the offense, and more importantly he’s giving solid effort on defense. By no means is White a lock down defender, he still gets lost on screens, but he’s trying and it shows.

– Alex Caruso had a monster game, and a monster dunk, against the Miami Heat last night. He was the teams 2nd leading scorer with 22 points, behind DeMar DeRozan’s 28. Caruso brings the energy and the attitude to the Bulls every time he hits the court. He sets the tone on defense, and has proven himself indispensable to the team by contributing in so many little ways. He is currently 3rd on the team in Win Share with 1.9, behind Zach LaVine’s 2.2 and DeRozan’s 3.0. Caruso has been a joy to watch this season. It’s fair to say that the Bulls aren’t in the playoff hunt without him on the team.

With all the talk of playoffs and where the Bulls rank in the Eastern Conference and NBA overall, it’s important to remember to enjoy the ride this season. Yes, expectations have changed for this team, and yes, it will be disappointing if we aren’t watching the Bulls in the post season, but from a purely aesthetic point of view, the Bulls are playing the best basketball we’ve seen since Derrick Rose was a force to be reckoned with. As important as every win and/or loss may prove to be this season, I’m not going to agonize over or over analyze each game. I’m trying to enjoy the journey, whatever the destination ends up being. I hope you are too.

As always, thanks for reading and GO BULLS!