If you believe, as I do, that the NBA’s regular season serves no obvious purpose, then the success the Bulls are enjoying in the playoffs makes perfect sense. Why would they waste their time and energy on something that doesn’t matter much? Being exasperatingly inconsistent for 82 games and then looking like an elite team for two postseason games on the road seems almost logical.
But do we really have any idea what a 2-0 first-round series lead on the Celtics says about the Bulls? Should two victories over what appears to be an underwhelming No. 1 seed bring on talk of keeping this version together for next season? Of suddenly wanting Rajon Rondo back in a Chicago uniform in 2017-18? Of the “Big Three’’ returning? Who even knew there was a “Big Three?”
I have an image of vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman sitting in an office and chanting, “This was the plan all along.’’ If driving everyone crazy with uneven play and soap-opera drama during the regular season followed by a two-game playoff turnaround was the plan all along, well, alrighty then.
The sudden, though brief, postseason success has produced more questions than answers. Should we be celebrating these Bulls as they head into Game 3 Friday night at the United Center? Why are we allowing ourselves a group amnesia session after what the team put the city through in the regular season? Yes, the guy asking all these questions is the same guy who several paragraphs earlier said that the regular season doesn’t mean anything. But I’m as confused by the two road victories over Boston (and the accompanying civic pep rally) as I was by the team’s mediocrity in the regular season.
Why should we trust the playoff rendering of the Bulls over the regular-season rendering?
“Everybody is so locked in right now,’’ center Robin Lopez said in response to that question Thursday. “Obviously, we’re led by three awesome veterans who are out there dictating the pace of play on both sides of the floor. But everybody is so focused on every play. I think that’s a huge plus for us.’’
Those “three awesome veterans’’ are Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rondo, and it’s the first time those names and the word “awesome’’ have landed in the same sentence this season. But Lopez said there’s a good reason why Butler, Wade and Rondo didn’t mesh in the regular season and why they’re meshing now.
“Those kind of things take time,’’ he said. “Bringing together any group of players takes a little bit of time. But like I said earlier, everybody’s locked in right now.’’
We learned Friday that Rondo is locked out now, sidelined indefinitely with a fractured thumb.
I’d like to get on board with what Lopez is saying, but I’d like to know what I’m getting on board with. With a team that barely got the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference? With more of the same possibly on tap for next season? With Wade, who will turn 36 next season? With a middling first-round draft pick? Why am I supposed to be on board with any of this? If somebody can tell me, I’m all ears.
The team’s seesaw existence in the regular season didn’t make a whole lot of sense, and neither does what is happening now. It has been impossible to tell if the Bulls are this good or the Celtics are this bad.
Is Wade surprised that the Bulls are up 2-0?
“Yeah,’’ he said. “I’m going to lie? I mean, we’re a confident team, but you’re not thinking you’re going to go into Boston and get two. You’re just trying to get one. … Coming in, I didn’t say, ‘Hey, we’re going to be up 2-0 on Boston.’ No. No one thought that.’’
It’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility that the Bulls could lose the next two at home. Will they? If you watched this team go 41-41 in the regular season, if you watched them beat the good teams and lose to the bad teams, then you know that making predictions is a fool’s errand.
When someone asked Lopez if “schizophrenic’’ was the right word to describe this team, given its mercurial nature, he all but acknowledged it with his answer.
“Hopefully, we won’t be schizophrenic [Friday],’’ he said.
The Bulls are great, and the Blackhawks stink. Do I have that right? Did something happen that turned the world upside down while I was on vacation?
How did we get here? And is this really where we want to be? Answers, please.
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