Friday, January 29, 2010

No Bull: Vinny's boys are suddenly road warriors

What in the world has gotten into the Bulls? The past week has easily been the team's best stretch all year, and quite possibly represents the best week in the last several years (save the week when they drafted Derrick Rose). They defeated Phoenix (17-4 at home at the time), Houston (13-5), San Antonio (17-8), and Oklahoma City (12-9) in a six-day span, all on the road. And this despite the fact that the Bulls were just 4-15 on the road heading into the game against the Suns. So the Bulls had four road wins on the season, then picked up four more in six days against four Western Conference contenders. Huh?

You can take any team--the Cavs, the Lakers, the Celtics, you name it--there's a good chance none of them would accomplish what the Bulls just did given the opportunity. Earlier this year, Cleveland went to Denver, Portland, Golden State and Utah, and lost the first and last games of that stretch. The Lakers lost three straight road games earlier this month, including a 20-point defeat in San Antonio. When Boston headed West to take on the Clippers, Golden State and Phoenix, they lost all three.

Winning four tough road games in four days just doesn't really happen in the NBA. Winning four games in a row of any kind doesn't typically happen to the Bulls.

If this level of play continues, there's no way Vinny Del Negro can get the axe. If the season ended today, the Bulls would be in the playoffs as the 7 seed. On top of that, they're just 1.5 games back of the 5 seed! Granted, this speaks more to the NBA having too many playoff teams and to the weak nature of the Eastern Conference than it does to the Bulls' success, but that doesn't change the facts.

So what's changed?

1. Derrick Rose has scored 20 or more in five straight games. More importantly, the team is confident giving him the ball when there's 15 seconds on the clock and they're down by one. That is to say, he's becoming the guy for the Bulls, something every team needs.

2. Joakim Noah is not just a big ball of energy any more--he's applying that energy and filling up the stat sheet. The man is second in the league in rebounds and averaging a double-double on the season. Some people said the monster playoff series he had against the Celtics last year would elevate his confidence and lead to a strong 2009-10 season. Some people were right.

And that's it. Let's be honest--not that much has changed. The Bulls are still just a .500 team and currently the 7th best team in the East. They were the 7th best team in the East last year when Rose was a rookie and so was Del Negro. The Bulls were expected to build on last year and be a serious contender this season, not half contender/half pretender. But this recent run of success has been awfully nice to see; let's hope it continues.

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