It’s kind of nuts how quickly the NBA schedule turns from having too many games and ‘schedule losses’ (where the results are borderline invalid) to a renewed sense of urgency given that the ‘break’ during All-Star weekend means only 23 games remaining.
And it’s especially so this season for your Chicago Bulls, as they are firmly in the postseason but it’s a very competitive race for the top-6 seeds to avoid the play-in tournament.
Here’s where they stand at the break, tied for first but a mere 5 games from 7th.
Now, this was a lot scarier in the week-plus leading into the break with multiple rotation players still unavailable, but as we know DeMar DeRozan put back on his cape (with help from Nikola Vucevic, Coby White, and Ayo Dosunmu) and had the Bulls not only surviving but thriving.
Those were key wins over what you’d call middling opponents, not necessarily tankers but not the best in the league either. Unfortunately for the Bulls as they head into the home stretch:
1) They have a very tough schedule
2) They have not performed well against a tough schedule so far this season
John Schuhmmann broke down both factors for the entire league at NBA dot com, the Bulls getting special mention:
The Bulls have the league’s second-toughest remaining schedule in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage (.543), with 14 of their 23 games against the 15 teams that currently have winning records.
They currently have the league’s second-biggest differential (the Kings have the biggest) between their record vs. the 15 teams currently under .500 (27-6, .818) and their record against the top 15 (11-15, .423). Five of their 10 games within the East’s top eight will be rest-advantage games for the Bulls (2) or their opponents (3). They’re 8-1 in rest-advantage games and 6-4 in rest-disadvantage games thus far.
And so far this year, among the top 8 in the East (a proper sample, though I still think the Hawks, and to a much lesser extent the Knicks, can make a run), the Bulls have been the worst:
Of course, health has a lot to do with this. But I will not be listing excuses: the Bulls were missing players for several of these games, but similarly their opponents had absences as well.
Health-wise, the Bulls look to be somewhat better with Zach LaVine returning and the bench adding Tristan Thompson. But for the next few weeks we still won’t see Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, and Patrick Williams. LaVine, Javonte Green, and Derrick Jones are playing through pain. There is an expectation that the Bulls will be fully healthy eventually given their injury timetables, but in reality they’re actually more expected to be injured in some form given that they’ve been injured so much already.
But, even with all that said, this Bulls team has been remarkably resilient all season. It’s time we stop expecting the sky to fall and instead rely on recent evidence that this team can win games in spite of adversity.