As usual, most pressing news first: Bulls practiced on Monday, and good news is CJ Watson is cleared to play after missing the last game-plus with concussion symptoms. Even better news is that Rip Hamilton practiced as well, and seems to have an upgraded condition beyond the existing 'I dunno'. He could return as early as Tuesday.
That Tuesday game is home against against the Hornets. I know Thibodeau doesn't factor in opponents when it comes to playing/resting his guys, but we can factor it in when discussing how the Bulls performed in the first half of the season. As Bulls Confidential noted before the break, the Bulls should be commended for accumulating a lot of wins with their starting lineup rarely intact, but they have feasted on some poor competition: The Bulls opponents so far this season have had the lowest total winning percentage, and Jeff Sagarin at USA Today rates it (however he does it) as the second-easiest.
Now, you may say (if you're a frequent commenter here, anyway) that the Bulls have had a disproportionate number of road games. You may even say (if you're in the lower-fifth of the BaB commenter power rankings) that somehow the NBA is out to 'screw' the Bulls. I'd counter that home/road means less than opponent strength especially for this team. It's certainly impressive that they always have an effort no matter where or when they play, and the depth to keep up that intensity. But I don't think it's as important as seeing how they do against the better competition, as that's what the playoffs are about, not a road game in Charlotte. So it's fantastic that they were able to bank a lot of wins in the first half, but I'll be more apt to get over whatever reluctance I have believing in this team's championship quest when they get healthy and beat up better teams. I think one will have a lot to do with the other.
Other notes from the remainder of the first half:
- If you want to get even more tempered Bulls enthusiasm, in your ears, listen to the midseason grades given out in this week's Bulls Beat Podcast.
- Sorry Mike James fans, his 10-day contract expired over the break and he's no longer on the team. With Rose healthy I don't expect that to change, waiting on choosing either him, another guard, or a big man like Leon Powe until they absolutely know which type they'll need.
- The Basketball Hall of Fame inductees were announced over the weekend, KC Johnson has the full Bulls-centric notes. Congrats to Sam Smith (I'm sure he's reading, right?) for his induction into the media wing of the hall. His quick look at fellow inductee (and former Bull) Chet Walker is part of the reason why Sam's good, and then dozens of bits of his All-Star recap and Trade Deadline primer give reasons he's completely batty.
- And to that last point about Sam's over-the-top lauding of humblebot, there's proof that Rose does have some personality, giving one of the better answers in TBJ's 'couch surfing' question on media day. Of course, we don't need our superstar to also be engaging off-the-court, he does enough on it...and it helps that the Bulls have the best mascot to compensate the rest.