After their long road trip that has them looking like a definite playoff team and maybe possessing a chance at postseason advancement, the Bulls enjoyed a 4-day break before hosting the Lakers tonight. As I said when seeing the upcoming matchup after just getting a gimmee against the Sixers: man it seems like the Bulls have had a comfortable early schedule. Is that partially the reason why the play (as in not just record, their point differential too) has been so good?
The Lakers are surprisingly not as terrible as initially thought, but still are a fairly poor team. But what’ll make easier is that they’ll have played the night before. Then the Bulls following game, Friday against the Cavaliers, is yet another game where the Bulls opponent will be facing them on the second leg of a back-to-back.
If it’s seemed like that’s happened a lot...it’s because it does look to be kind of a distributive outlier. After Friday, it’ll make for 7 of the Bulls first 18 games being where the opponent is playing on the second night in a row. (Celtics, Pacers, @Hawks, Wizards, @Clippers, Lakers, Cavs). The Bulls themselves will have only done this 3 times (@Pacers, @Heat, @Lakers).
Before the year, NBAStuffer.com broke down the rest factor of each teams’ schedule for the whole season. In that, the Bulls are in the middle of the pack both on their own back-to-backs and that of their opponent, at 17 occurrences apiece.
So while the Bulls aren’t enjoying an easy schedule this season, they’ve definitely had some breaks bunched up near the early part: through 22% of their schedule, they’ve enjoyed 41% of the opponent back-to-backs they’ll see all season.
Another break has been the strength of the opponents. Using an ESPN (Hollinger) metric derived from opponents winning percentage (and the win% of their foes), the Bulls have had the 5th easiest opponent strength in the league so far. And if you nitpick game-by-game (and oh, I will), it’s hard to even think of this year’s best win. Boston on opening night? They were on a back-to-back. Portland was definitely seen as a feat at the time, but they look no better than a .500 team given they have the worst defense in basketball at the moment. It’s always tough to win in Utah, but they were missing Hill and Favors.
This isn’t to say that the Bulls record is a total mirage. For one thing, if we’re calling opponents like the Magic and Pacers bad, then those are also teams the Bulls need to be better than to make the playoffs. And it’s nice to see that the Bulls are demolishing bad teams, whereas in previous years we’d see perhaps better single-wins against top opponents only to then falter against the lesser ones.
But it’s more about trying to figure out how they look so damn good on the floor. The Bulls as of Tuesday have a top-10 efficiency on offense (7th) and defense (8th).
Warriors, Clippers, Bulls now the three teams with top ten offensive and defensive marks.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) November 28, 2016
Even conceding that maybe Gar Forman knew what he was doing (which I won’t, but hypothetically), this team has looked too good to make sense. But the schedule may be the reason why.
Luckily there’s some positives from this: the home/road split will lighten up in the Bulls favor going forward, they’ve been missing pretty key players too, and best of all: you don’t have to give the wins back (deserve’s got nothing to do with it), so the team’s given themselves a great cushion of victories.