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Monday, May 27

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Bulls in Five - I Told You So
by Jason Maslanka

Last week, after the Indiana win, I started the column with the line, "It's time to start looking at things in a positive light." As I read other media outlets discussing the win and the season, I felt alone, stranded on an island of hope while others fell prey to more doom and gloom. It's amazing what another week of winning will do to the prospects of a dead season. The major Chicago papers all used the term "surge" to describe the four-game winning streak, and everyone is excited for a possible playoff push. This is a totally different team with Tyson Chandler playing like he should, a team that very well could make the playoffs this year after a difficult start. How, you ask?

One: Tyson. Tyson. More Tyson.
I've said it, the Bulls' TV and radio announcers have said it, and anyone who ever talks about the Bulls has said it. Tyson Chandler wasn't pulling his weight. Well, times have changed. During the four-game winning streak, Chandler has averaged 14 rebounds a game. It's only four games, but 14 boards per would be good for first in the NBA over the course of the season. In the category of unexpected but welcome, Chandler has also had double-figure points in each game as well. Doing the math, yup, that's a double-double in each of the four. Now that's worth $60 million.

Two: The Rest of the Frontline
As this season wore on, most pundits described the Bulls' biggest problem as their small front line. Size was never so much the problem, however, as was their lack of ability to do anything good that really hindered the front line. Malik Allen was basically useless; Darius Songaila had shown flashes, but nothing consistent; Chandler has been discussed; Michael Sweetney was terribly inconsistent defensively and in the short game; and Othella Harrington was, well, Othella Harrington, a nice player but not your best post option if you want to win. Fast forwarding to today, Songaila has been terrific for a few weeks, playing with vigor and hitting an amazing amount of open jumpers. Chandler is a whole new player, Allen is an actual contributor, and Harrington is still Harrington, but making contributions when necessary. Maybe the biggest cog in this recent winning has been Sweetney's lack of time. With Chandler and Songaila leading the way, Sweetney hasn't found even one minute of time in the last four games. Although tremendously talented and wonderfully wide, Sweetney commonly found himself in the wrong spot defensively, missing easy lay-ins and struggling to perform up to his capability. Hopefully this time off gets him straight, and not inactive.

Threeeeee: Gordon's Gun
There are quite a few things that Ben Gordon doesn't do well. He's not a terrific defender in a team scheme. He doesn't pass especially well. The one thing he does exceptionally well, though, is fire up shots. When his shot is lacking, or he refuses to go to the basket, it's a nightmare for the Bulls. A player who takes 15 shots and makes two some nights will never help a team win. In winning five of their last six, Gordon has had over 20 points in three of those games. For those of us used to the Jordan era when Michael put up 30 every night, scoring 20 is quite an accomplishment in today's NBA. Gordon's average of 19.8 over those games would put him right behind Tim Duncan at 23rd in the NBA over the course of the year. He currently sits at 50th with 15.1 PPG.

Four: How It All Comes Together
The stats I'm quoting over the past two weeks show the makings of a real team. A playoff team. Chandler is the bruiser, a double-double machine who blocks shots and intimidates. Harrington and Songaila provide key points throughout the game and take turns providing 15 every night. Deng and Nocioni are the hybrids. They drive, rebound, pass and hit jumpers. Gordon is the points man. Defense and anything else he does poorly can be forgiven if he puts up 20 every night. Hinrich is the general. He keeps it all together. With the Bulls playing a rotation of 10 men per night, Hinrich and Chris Duhon's responsibility is to keep it all flowing. The upcoming road trip will be the real test of this real team, but the team who played the last four will definitely do some winning. Whatever team played the first 39 games will not.

Five: I'll Have an All-Star, Please
The other biggest criticism of this team has been the lack of a superstar. Who gets the ball in the last moments? Who carries the team when they're down? That man doesn't exist. With 25 days left until the NBA trading deadline, John Paxson would love to add that superstar for the second-half push. The most highly rumored name is Paul Pierce of the Celtics. Pierce averages over 25 points per game and has the ability to score 50 on any given night. The Celtics are 18-26, falling quickly and have a good young front line for the future. They might want to pair that front line up with a developing backcourt — say, Chris Duhon and Ben Gordon? Paxson knows that the Bulls' situation this off-season is good, with tons of cap space and two first-round draft picks, so the deal would have to be a good one, but don't be surprised if the Bulls shop some young talent for some old in the next month.

Standings Update: The Bulls (20-23) are only 0.5 Games Behind Washington (20-22) for the eighth playoff spot.

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About the Author(s)

Jason Maslanka began his fandom of the Chicago Bulls in June of 1991, conveniently coinciding with the franchise's first championship. The years since the championships tested his fandom, but it never faltered. He believes that the NBA is more than dunks and hip hop, and that the NBA dress code is a good thing. He thinks most fans don't really understand basketball, and if they did, they'd love it even more. He knows that there are certain players who do the little things for no praise, and stat-mongers who don't really do anything to help their team win. Every week, he plans to execute a beautifully crafted column containing five points you should be thinking about and discussing as a Bulls and NBA fan. Send comments, questions, and arguments to bulls@gapersblock.com

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