One of the few criticisms of the Bulls’ success this season is that the level of competition hasn’t been high, that the blood on the tips of their horns has come from weak victims.
The only proper response to that is: What, you’d rather watch the Bears lose football games?
Sometimes I wonder if the local NFL team has taken us hostage and, by virtue of some Stockholm Syndrome voodoo, convinced people that winning isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Granted, there’s something perversely fascinating about observing all of the Bears’ various neuroses on display at once. But the Bulls are cruising and — this is the strange part for those of us embedded in the decades-long Bears muck — doing things the right way.
They’re 25-10, have the best record in the Eastern Conference and have won eight games in a row.
It’s a timely reminder that winning is good.
The rebuttal to this sunny outlook would be that it’s early January, things don’t start mattering in the NBA for another two or three months and . . . stop! Don’t you dare snatch the water from our parched tongues! The Blackhawks have lost five straight and have an unsightly goal differential of minus-35. The Sky haven’t won a title since October. Baseball season is months away.
And this can’t be emphasized enough: You do not want the Bears to be your existence.
Let’s take a look at the Bulls’ winning streak. The eight sacrificial lambs were a combined 47 games under .500 when they stepped on the floor to face the Bulls. Much of that was due to the Magic’s 7-30 record when the teams faced off Monday night. But only two opponents came in with winning records during the streak: the Wizards (18-17) and the Lakers (16-14).
There’s no shame in any of this. The Bulls are beating the teams the schedule has put in front of them. No apologies are necessary, especially this season, when COVID-19 has thrown massive challenges at every team. Two Bulls games were postponed in mid-December because 10 of their players were in the league’s health and safety protocols. The team was without coach Billy Donovan for five games after he tested positive for the coronavirus. The Bulls managed to wend their way through that maze.
The entertainment value has been ridiculous, with DeMar DeRozan hitting buzzer-beating game-winners against the Pacers on Friday and the Wizards on Saturday.
And, yes, the Bulls have taken down some good teams this season. They’ve beaten the Nets twice and the Jazz once. But the truth about the NBA is that there are a lot of middling teams every year, which gets us back to the previously mentioned truth: You can only beat the teams standing in front of you. That’s not the Bulls’ fault.
We’ll get a better idea of how good they are in the next month, when they play the Warriors and Suns, who have the two best records in the league, and the defending-champion Bucks. But the first 35 games have shown that DeRozan and Zach LaVine can share the ball and, more to the point, that LaVine is capable of holding the door open for somebody else. That wasn’t a sure thing when the Bulls acquired DeRozan in an August trade.
The hope always was that the ultra-talented LaVine would recognize a good thing when he saw it. DeRozan joined a roster that already included another star, Nikola Vucevic. LaVine saw the light and embraced it. It’s working. The Bulls rank first in the NBA in three-point percentage, second in free-throw percentage and fourth in field-goal percentage. DeRozan has tried to make the midrange game cool again, a difficult task in a league built on three-point shooting. What’s next, Vucevic bringing back the Sky Hook?
The big man has shown signs of coming out of a shooting slump, but even when he’s not a factor offensively, he’s a monster on the boards. In the last six games, he has averaged 16 rebounds.
All of this points to good things ahead for the Bulls. Are they the best team in the East? I wouldn’t rule anything out, not in a season in which few teams look dominant.
Bulls vice president Arturas Karnisovas has put together an excellent roster. His approach seems to suggest a belief that having good players leads to a good record, which leads to a good culture. The reverse order doesn’t necessarily work in pro sports. Somebody ought to tell the Bears that. Nice is fine. Winning is better.
Much, much better.