The Chicago Bulls released their season schedule. It offers a plethora of interesting matchups, and a lot of national television appearances. Chicago is slated to appear 34 times on National TV, including 12 times on ESPN alone. For a team that didn't make the playoffs last season, the fact that they are tied for the second most appearances on national TV this season is staggering.
Also of note is that the NBA as a whole is also looking to cut down on back to backs and the Bulls will have 17 of those this year.
Let's take a closer look:
Bulls vs. Knicks (November 4th) : Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah return to the United Center. Sure to be an emotional moment although some debate could be sparked about who gets the louder ovation. Either way, it will be a big matchup.
Bulls vs. Heat (November 10th) : Speaking of emotional returns. Dwyane Wade returns to Miami on November 10th and will surely get a huge reception. Let's hope the Bulls don't get smacked in Miami like they did last year.
Bulls vs. Cavs (December 2nd) : The UC is always fun when LeBron and company come to town. Maybe these might be one of those games where the Bulls are supposed to lose but they somehow pull out the win. Maybe we might see another big game from Cristiano Felicio, who balled out the last time they met.
Bulls vs. Mavs (December 3rd) : Rajon Rondo faces off against the team and coach that he clashed with during the playoffs. This game won't see a happy reception towards the Chicago point guard.
Bulls vs. Timberwolves (December 13rd) : It's the return we have all been waiting for. The return of Thibs to face his former team. He will bring a very young and extremely talented T-Wolves squad with some future All-Stars in Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and potentially Kris Dunn. Don't be surprised if Thibs walks away from this matchup with a win.
Bulls vs. Spurs (December 25th) : It's Christmas Day and the Bulls will be facing the well-oiled machine known as the San Antonio Spurs. Plus we get to play against everyone's favorite big man Pau Gasol.
Bulls vs. Warriors (March 2nd) : This is the only time that the Warriors will show up in the United Center unless the Bulls make the NBA Playoffs so get your tickets to see one of the best basketball teams ever assembled.
Who do the Bulls play the most?
The divisional games will be huge for Chicago to win and their divisional record will tell a lot about this team. There are some quality teams in the Central now, and the Pistons and Bucks aren't pushovers. Some of these games could be easy games like against the 76ers and the Nets. The other ones against the Magic, Hawks, and Wizards could be key games for the Bulls as well while they make their playoff push.
With the exception of the Raptors, the Bulls struggled with these teams. The Heat and Hornets were just a lot better than the Bulls and dominated in the frontcourt. Some of those games weren't even close. Everyone also remembers the back to back losses to the Knicks near the end of the season that essentially killed off any hopes of making the playoffs.
The maximum amount of home games Chicago has in a row is three. Here they are.
December 8th-13th : Spurs, Heat, T-Wolves
December 16th-21 : Bucks, Pistons, Wizards
January 25th-29th : Hawks, Heat, 76ers
February 14th-24th : Raptors, Celtics, Suns
February 28th - March 4th : Denver, Golden State, LA Clippers
The home stretches that stand out the most are the first and last one. Both feature some big time matchups with some really good Western Conference teams coming to the United Center. One common theme you can see (with the exception of the second one) with these stretches of three games is that there is one "very winnable" game for Chicago. But a lot of these games come against nondivisional teams and offers Bulls fans to see some great players that don't come to Chicago very often like Stephen Curry, Blake Griffin and Kevin Durant. With the United Center being one of the best arenas in the NBA, the Bulls should do well on their home court but will face some challenges with the Western Conference teams.
Chicago goes on two big road trips this year. One in November and one in February. Both are six games.
February road trip (as Cody Westerlund notes via Twitter that's it's because of Ice Show) : OKC, Houston, Sacramento, Golden State, Phoenix, Minnesota
From an initial glance, the February road trip looks like a tougher trek than the one in November. The Circus trip starts out pretty tough but games against the Lakers, Nuggets, and 76ers are very winnable games for the Bulls. Meanwhile, the February trip sees the Bulls play OKC, Houston, Golden State, and Minnesota. All teams that could make the playoffs in the West. Obviously, these games won't exactly make or break the Bulls season but they should at least try to go above .500 on the first road trip and try to split the other one (two wins against Sacramento and Phoenix and steal a game from someone).
From what it looks like this schedule looks pretty manageable for the Bulls as long as they win the games they are supposed to. But the real X-Factor will be against the teams that they play four times and the ones in their division. Can they prove that they are better than the Hawks, Wizards, Bucks, or Pistons? We don't know exactly how this Bulls team will play out and that's kind of frightening. But these are just first reactions and who knows if a big matchup may arise latter down the season. Let's get excited about the season guys. The era of the "Three Alphas" is upon us.