Sky isn’t crashing down on the Bulls just yet
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Full strength for the Bulls has a sample size.
The expected starting five of Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah have taken the court together for the opening tip in 15 games.
Those games are hard to remember at times, especially in the aftermath of back-to-back losses to the Lakers and Suns.
In those 15 games, the Bulls went 12-3, which isn’t a record that can be easily overlooked.
“That’s our reality,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said of the short-handed roster he has dealt with for most of this season. “That’s the NBA. There’s an excuse every night, if you choose to use one. Or you choose to fight through.’’
On some nights, the Bulls have fought through. Recent instances include victories against these Western Conference powerhouses: the Warriors, Spurs and Mavericks. On other nights, the usual suspects held them back: low energy, lack of readiness to play, poor defense, bad shooting … pick a poison.
“We have a resilient group, a group that is willing to fight and compete,’’ Gasol said. “We just can’t pick and choose when.
“We just can’t be motivated against the good teams in this league, otherwise the record is just not good enough and you put yourself in a tougher position when you want to make a run.’’
Some signs indicate that a run could be coming. Even though the road trip made a nasty turn after the victory against the Warriors, there are reasons to believe the 13-2 December record wasn’t a mirage, and it starts with Dunleavy’s right foot.
The veteran small forward said that the bone bruise that has kept him on the sideline has improved, with the last hurdle being hard running pain-free. The hope is to have him back before the All-Star break in two weeks. The worst-case scenario is a return Feb. 20, when the Bulls reconvene in Detroit.
Dunleavy’s return not only will give the team its best catch-and-shoot option, but it will take pressure off a bench that has been trying to fill his spot.
Butler, recently named an All-Star, seemed to hit a wall a few weeks ago as teams adjusted to his early-season scoring outbursts. He started to see double-teams and traps and needed to adjust. So far, so good.
“It’s still a learning curve,’’ Butler said. “I have to find ways to be effective when a team does double-team or trap or do something like that. At the same time, you should take it as a compliment. I guess you’re doing something right on that end of the floor.’’
Finally, there are big men Noah and Gasol, who are getting comfortable playing together.
Noah still has awkward moments on offense, particularly when he goes to the top of the key to get the ball, and clogs things up for Rose. But the two bigs had one of their more impressive weeks together.
“The big thing [for Gasol and Noah] is being out there together,’’ Thibodeau said, “not only in games but in practice, as well. That’s how you build chemistry. There’s so much that goes into figuring out, ‘OK, we’re being defended this way and the more times you see it, this is what we look for.’
“But, again, this is our reality.’’