Entering the season, the Chicago Bulls had high hopes that their offseason veteran additions would help this team build off a strong 46-36 record and playoff qualification from just one year ago. With a full offseason to gel as a team, and Lonzo Ball presumably set to return at some point in the season, I can’t blame fans for being optimistic about Chicago’s odds before the season tipped off.
29 games in, however, and things weren’t looking so good. The Bulls held a record of 11-18 and rampant speculation regarding the viability of Chicago’s ‘Big 3’ and this team’s future trajectory began reaching full speed. It all culminated in a locker room dispute at halftime against the Minnesota Timberwolves on December 18, where teammates reportedly put Bulls’ superstar Zach LaVine’s efforts on defense under the microscope.
Whatever happened in that locker room may always be a mystery, but one thing is for sure, it seems to have been the shot in the arm this team needed. Since December 18, the Bulls have achieved a record of 10-6, including statement victories over the Bucks, Nets, 76ers, and Warriors.
Looking ahead, the Bulls appear to finally be out of the woods with a relatively optimistic opposing schedule on the dock for the next eight games. Over that stretch, the Bulls will take on a host of struggling teams and hopefully get back above a .500 winning percentage for the first time since early November.
After hosting the Hawks tonight, the Bulls will embark on a road trip with stops in Indiana, Charlotte, and Orlando before wrapping things up with a four-game homestand against the Clippers, Hornets, Trail Blazers, and Spurs. These teams currently possess a pitiful combined record of 150-226; with the majority of these taking place at home, there’s no excuse for Chicago to miss this golden opportunity to leap up the Eastern Conference standings.
The Chicago Bulls must make the most of these next eight games if they wish to make a genuine push toward playoff contention.
Despite a surprisingly strong 12-15 record against .500 and above teams (given their poor standing in the East), it’s actually the relatively ‘easy’ games that have troubled the Bulls this year. Chicago is just 9-9 against sub-.500 teams, an abysmal mark for any team built to win now in a season where many others teams have been incentivized to intentionally lose in the pursuit of coveted draft prospect Victor Wembanyama.
In fact, no other team currently seeded 10th or higher has a worse record against losing teams than Chicago. This team has simply left too many missed opportunities on the table to be taken seriously at the halfway mark of the season.
While the Bulls have proven they can consistently win against even the best of the NBA’s contenders, Chicago needs to win these games against inferior opponents if they want their fans to remain hopeful for any semblance of postseason success. I can’t imagine anyone would feel comfortable placing their faith in a Chicago Bulls team that doesn’t even have enough left in the tank to capitalize on the league’s fifth-easiest remaining strength of schedule.
These consistent losses demonstrate a lack of preparation, either on the coaching staff’s or players’ behalf. Their inability to come ready to play against bottom-feeding teams does not bode well for the playoffs, when implementing new strategies on a game-by-game basis becomes of the utmost importance.
Despite these struggles, I feel confident speaking for most fans when I say I’d rather watch who can beat anyone on any given night (and conversely, lose to anyone), than one who only performs well against bad teams. That is undoubtedly the most distinct difference between last year’s team to this year’s rendition. And that’s enough for me to hold out hope this season is not a lost cause just yet. Whether or not I’ll still feel the same way eight games from now, well, that’s up to the Bulls to secure these easy wins while they still can.