The Bulls had a golden opportunity.
After starting the season 12-18, the Bulls were riding a season-high three-game winning streak, building momentum with a blowout win at home against the Golden State Warriors, a thrashing of the Detroit Pistons in Paris and a convincing victory over the Atlanta Hawks back at home. With a soft schedule in front of them, the Bulls had a chance to move up in a crowded Eastern Conference play-in race.
"We have a helluva opportunity to write our own story," Bulls star DeMar DeRozan recalled telling his teammates before boarding their flight to Paris.
Instead, the story followed a familiar script. Chicago blew a 21-point lead against the Indiana Pacers -- Indiana's lone victory in the 11 games that guard Tyrese Haliburton was sidelined with a left knee contusion -- then lost by 15 points to the Charlotte Hornets. The Bulls closed January by blowing a 19-point lead in a loss to the LA Clippers, and then rebounded with a pair of home wins over the Hornets and Portland Trail Blazers, leaving them two games below .500 and in ninth place in the East.
It's the latest microcosm of the team's struggles this season: The Bulls have had three separate three-game winning streaks, but have yet to win four in a row. In January, they dropped four games when leading by more than 15 points, tied for the most by any team over the past 25 seasons, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information. And the Bulls are 9-10 against teams under .500.
"Take two steps forward, two steps back," coach Billy Donovan said. "You keep going back and forth like that, it's hard to grow."
After finishing 46-36 last season and snapping a five-year playoff drought, the Bulls retained nearly their entire roster: Nine of the team's top 10 players by minutes played this season are holdovers from the 2021-22 season. Management touted continuity within the organization, believing a step forward was coming as its roster continued to gel.