It's games like the one the Bulls won on Friday night in Dallas, 100-91 over the Mavericks, that makes you wonder what might have been. If that sounds like a morbid way to start a recap after a great win when then team is playing its best ball of the year, don't let it get you down. What the Bulls are doing right now is downright inspiring; the win in Dallas makes it eight victories in the nine games, and successful navigation of the early part of the post-All-Star break schedule that scared me so much a couple weeks ago.
Thing is, we know the Bulls aren't winning the championship this year -- not without Derrick Rose and Luol Deng. Whatever. If you view this shit through a title-or-bust lens, my guess is you're going to end up sad, lonely and tired. The Bulls are playing some beautiful basketball right now. Enjoy it. Maye even get excited for the chance that one day this team might actually be healthy. It's wins like this one that make me think this core could be capable of some truly special things if they could ever find a little bit of good luck.
The Bulls were down 38-22 against Dallas in the second quarter, before a late run in the period keyed by Taj Gibson got the Bulls back in it. Chicago maintained its momentum after the break and blitzed Dallas in the fourth, 27-15. This was Tom Thibodeau basketball in every way -- tough defense (the Mavs shot 40 percent from the field), balanced scoring and a few gutty plays late to keep the win in order.
It's never just one guy. On Friday, it was all seven that played real minutes. The aforementioned Gibson continues to be the bright, beaming sun in dark, cold world, abusing Dallas' weak front line in the paint to the tune of 20 points and 15 rebounds. Joakim Noah was as solid as ever across his 37 minutes as well, finishing with 10 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two steals. Noah made a critical defensive strip on Dirk late in the fourth that led to a Bulls bucket and helped seal the win. With interior defenders like Taj and Noah, the Bulls are going to win a lot of games. It doesn't attract people like fancy ball handling and long distance shooting, but there are very few things in this league as important as tough defense at the rim. The Bulls have that, and because of it the Bulls are pretty god.
With Taj and Noah doing the important stuff, everyone else was able to hold their own to secure the win. Jimmy Butler was brilliant, really, skying to swat a shot late and finishing with 19 points, seven rebounds and three assists even though he made only six of his 11 attempts from the foul line. The Craptain was feeling it too, as if the defense of Jose Calderon needed another indictment. Hinrich went 7-of-8 from the field to finish with 17 points and three assists. "Killer Mike" Dunleavy had 16, Carlos Boozer had nine and D.J. Augustin added nine off the bench.
Seven guys. That's all it took to beat the current No. 6 seed in the West on the road. What can't these Bulls do?
The schedule will only get tougher in March, with many of the NBA's elite teams visiting the UC. Give me one reason to count out these Bulls, though. Lack of scoring? Talent deficiency? It's rarely stopped them in the past. We went through this same thing last year with the Bulls, but thought the absence of Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli would mean this team wouldn't have enough offense without Derrick for the second year in the row. Well, they're doing it again.
With Jimmer likely to join the squad this weekend, it's a good time to be a Bulls fan. Before you bitch about this organization, look at the Knicks. Look at the Pistons. Look at the Nets. There's a lot of shit teams in this league that haven't had their best player sidelined for two full seasons. There's nothing that can be done about Rose's injuries, but that doesn't cancel out the work on the folks who are actually on the court continue to do. Bulls basketball is fun again, and shame on us for thinking there was too much adversity to get back here. We should have known better.