Several questions surrounded the Chicago Bulls at the turn of the New Year. Would Zach LaVine be able to effectively reincorporate himself into the starting lineup? Is the Bulls' recent success a fluke or indicative of a comeback? Are the core players of this team even still going to be playing for the Bulls after February's trade deadline next month?
Unfortunately, we don't have the answers to these questions just yet. There's light at the end of the tunnel, however, as Chicago is off to a great start to 2024. LaVine and Nikola Vucevic have recovered from their injuries and returned to the lineup, helping propel the Bulls to a 2-0 start in January, even if it meant coming off the bench.
It even looks like this team will get some help in the second half of the season, as it appears the deck may just be stacked in Chicago's favor and the Bulls are holding a winning hand.
Several key factors are playing in Chicago's favor as the Bulls look to bounce back in 2024.
1. Chicago has a favorable schedule in the second half
Before the Bulls played their latest set of back-to-back games against the Hornets, they actually held the easiest remaining strength of schedule of any team in the NBA. After playing the NBA's fourth-worst team twice, they've relinquished the top spot, but things are still looking great for Chicago moving forward.
The Bulls' opponents for the remainder of the season now possess a 47.8% win percentage, which ranks as the NBA's fourth-easiest remaining strength of schedule — behind only the Magic, Celtics, and Timberwolves. If the Bulls are to have any hope of salvaging the season, they'll need to perform well against these lesser teams on their schedule to get back into the playoff picture.
2. The Bulls will be a much more well-rested team
Much has been said about how difficult it's been for the Bulls to overcome significant injuries to their roster, but they've had another big problem dragging them down through the first 38 games of this season That problem, of course, is that they've even had to play 38 games in the first place.
As of the time this article was posted, no team in the NBA has played more games than the Bulls. Only the Nuggets and Jazz have played as many games as Chicago, with other teams playing as few as 34 games so far. The Bulls are also one of only seven teams who have played 7 back-to-backs this season. This means Chicago will get an easier ride through the rest of the season, allowing for more time to rest and prevent further injuries.
3. The Bulls are building positive momentum and winning as a team
After starting the season 5-14, the energy clearly shifted with this team once Zach LaVine departed the rotation with a foot injury. In his absence, the Bulls won 10 of 17 games and took a big step toward climbing out of the hole they dug for themselves. Many were worried that LaVine's return would negatively impact the Bulls — myself included — but so far, things are going well.
Winning each of LaVine's two games back, the Bulls are now 12-7 in their last 19 games, a 52-win pace if extrapolated over the course of an entire season. Still just five games back from the fourth seed and guaranteed home-court advantage in the playoffs, the Bulls could certainly take advantage of this opportunity in front of them during Chicago's upcoming slate of favorable matchups.
A great deal hinges on LaVine's ability to embrace a team-oriented role and prove he can be a winning player, but this is a bet the Bulls must be willing to gamble on if they have any hope left of making a postseason run.