Notwithstanding their recent 32-point drubbing versus the Indiana Pacers, followed by a subsequent excruciating loss to the previously 1-16 Houston Rockets team, the 2021 Chicago Bulls have been good for the most part. Sure, their loss to the Portland Trailblazers hurt deeply as well, but 20 games into this season, the Chicago Bulls have clearly outperformed expectations; particularly, the expectations of national pundits, as well as those of skeptical, but loyal Chicago Bulls fans.
These Bulls Are Better Than Expected, But…
Prior to the season opener, national prognosticators pegged the Bulls to finish this season rather pathetically, as the paltry 11th seed in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. Fast-forward to tonight, and they are 13-8, tied for first in the Central Division and 1.5 games out of first place in the Eastern Conference behind the Brooklyn Nets, a team they’ve already beat handily.
Juxtapose last season’s gut-wrenching collapse to the Trail Blazers to this year’s frustrating loss to Portland. Last year’s horrible loss to a youthful, undermanned Oklahoma City team mimicked this season’s horrible loss to a youthful, short-handed Philadelphia squad.
Although Philadelphia dressed only eight players, they controlled the tempo and easily coasted past the Bulls at the United Center. Ouch!
Yet, I repeat. the Chicago Bulls are 13-8.
Is This Bulls Team A Title Contender?
Winning at a .619 clip, these 2021 Chicago Bulls have displayed traits that playoff teams are renowned for. Exhibiting tenacious defense, the Bulls average over eight steals and four blocks each contest, generating 21 points per game off the opponent’s turnovers. Most nights these Bulls unselfishly share the ball, make big shots, and due to circumstances have exhibited admirable resiliency.
Just five games into this season, via New York’s Mitchell Robinson’s borderline dirty foul, Patrick Williams’ season was rendered over. Zach LaVine has braved through an injured non-shooting thumb. Nikola Vucevic missed seven games according to COVID-19 protocol. Key reserve Alex Caruso has missed time as well.
Yet, again, these Chicago Bulls are 13-7.
These Bulls Are For Real
The Chicago Bulls enjoy steady play from dynamic wing scorers DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine. Where Patrick Williams was projected to be a low post defensive anchor, Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso are providing consistent on-ball defense, oftentimes frustrating taller, heavier opponents. Ball has also provided steady pacing and valuable offense from the three-point line. Although his scoring output this season has been reduced, Nikola Vucevic still provides value as a low post presence.
By the way, a .619 win percentage projected over 82 games? 51 wins. The last time the Bulls won 50+ games was 2011 when Derrick Rose led the Bulls to a 62-20 regular season, ultimately succumbing on the Eastern Conference Finals stage to the Miami Heat.
I repeat. Eastern Conference Finals stage…