After last Thursday’s discouraging loss in Oklahoma City, Joakim Noah was asked whether he still believed the Bulls, losers of four straight games at the time, were still a playoff team. “Yeah, no question,” the All-Star center defiantly responded. “Losing’s hard, we’re going through a lot of adversity right now, but I’m proud of this team because there’s no give-up and there’s nobody giving up. We’re just going to keep improving, keep getting better. There’s a lot of basketball left. We’ve just got to keep going.” Noah seems a lot more realistic in the aftermath of Saturday night’s home win over Cleveland, a game in which the Bulls put together one of their more complete outings of the season, shooting a season-high field-goal percentage, while playing smothering defense against an improved Cavaliers squad. But more than the Bulls playing at a high level on a nightly basis and getting the likes of starters Kirk Hinrich, Jimmy Butler and All-Star small forward Luol Deng back, the sad state of the Eastern Conference makes Noah seem prophetic in advance. It’s one thing to just say, “Oh, the East is bad,” without seriously analyzing the conference. The Bulls are currently in ninth place, one spot out of the playoff race at this early juncture of the season. But with their upcoming slate—three days off before taking on an underachieving Brooklyn team on Christmas Day, then two more days of rest before hosting a solid, but not overwhelmingly good Dallas squad—giving them a chance to get back bodies and only one game against a team presently above .500, Atlanta, in the next month’s worth of games, it’s not unfeasible that they can make up some ground. Yes, these are the same Bulls who just came off a stretch where they lost 13 out of 16 games, but look around the East: Brooklyn just lost its best player, All-Star center Brook Lopez, for the season with a broken foot; it’s no secret that Toronto is shopping starting guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, in an effort to obtain better positioning for the much-ballyhooed 2014 NBA Draft; the triumvirate of Washington, Detroit and Cleveland are just now learning how to win games; and it wouldn’t surprise anybody if overachievers like Atlanta, Charlotte and Boston hit a rough patch. This is not to say that recent acquisition D.J. Augustin is some kind of savior—though it wouldn’t be surprising to see him hold on to the starting point-guard job after Hinrich’s return, let alone be back in a Bulls uniform next season and beyond, given that Hinrich’s contract is up after the season and the diminutive Augustin could be an affordable option—or Deng and Butler will dramatically transform the team’s fortunes after they come back, as we saw they couldn’t single-handedly turn things around after returning from injuries last week.
Bulls' playoff chances boosted by East's ineptitude
CSN Chicago | Dec 23