Friday, March 4, 2011
In Michael Jordan's final year in Chicago, the Bulls went 62-20 and won their sixth NBA title in eight years. The following season under Tim Floyd, they won just 13 games in a shortened season and commenced a run of nearly unwatchable basketball that blew the Bulls right off the front pages of the Windy City's sports sections.
The Bulls have finished over .500 just twice since then, providing one jolt of excitement when they took the more-talented Celtics to seven games in the first round of the playoffs two years ago. They posted a perfectly mediocre 41-41 record each of the last two seasons, and Vegas set the over/under at 46.5 wins for this year.
But with their next win, the Bulls will have already exceeded last year's win total. At 41-18, they're just three games behind the Celtics and two behind the Heat for the best record in the Eastern Conference. Their seed will be vitally important given that they've lost just four home games all year--only the Spurs have lost fewer--but are a pedestrian 15-14 away from the United Center.
Though the Bulls are still looking up at the Heat and Celtics in the standings, they've separated themselves a bit from the rest of the pack and made a case for their Eastern Conference supremacy last week with a riveting win over the Heat, the second time they've beaten them at home this year (though they were LeBron-less the first time). The Bulls will face Miami again Sunday, though this time they'll be taking their talents to South Beach.
The Bulls came up empty in their two trips to the Garden this year, but defeated the Celtics at home and will try to do the same on April 7. A win in that game could go a long way toward improving the Bulls' playoff seed.
With Derrick Rose playing at an MVP level, Carlos Boozer providing a consistent threat down low, Joakim Noah crashing the boards after returning from injury, and a coach who's actually competent calling the plays, the Bulls look ready to make their playoff push. When fully healthy, the Bulls just might be the best team in the East, and it's been way too long since we could contemplate such a possibility.
The Bulls spoiled their fans in the 90s but took none of the spoils over the last decade--after all, they were rarely the victors--but there's finally a reason to be excited in the post-Jordan era. March Madness is just around the corner, but in Chicago, more madness will finally follow in April and maybe even beyond.