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Basketball Thu Jan 06 2011
Even after a close loss at New Jersey snapped their five-game win streak, the Bulls sit in third place in the Eastern Conference, just ahead of Orlando and Atlanta and a few games behind Miami and Boston. Truth be told, that's how the top half of the conference should shake out, as after Miami and Boston, everyone else would seem to be playing for bronze.
On paper, the Celtics and Heat are head and shoulders above everyone else. The Bulls have a pretty good top four with Joakim Noah healthy, but individually, you'd still find it hard to argue anywhere outside the Midwest that any of those four are clearly better than their Boston and Miami counterparts.
Down low, Carlos Boozer, Kevin Garnett and Chris Bosh are matched fairly evenly; same for Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade. But does Chicago have a second perimeter player to match the aging but still accurate Ray Allen or the Cleveland Judas, LeBron James? Not to mention Boston also has Paul Pierce.
While I would agree that neither team can match the Bulls underneath once Noah and Boozer are both playing, the fact is that Pierce, Allen and LeBron, if they're firing away, give their teams a better offensive attack than Chicago gets from Luol Deng and the Cerberus trio of Keith Bogans, Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver.
And that's without worrying about Orlando, which after its midseason makeover has Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson, Gilbert Arenas, J.J. Redick on the perimeter.
Until the Bulls can get more from the shooting guard spot, it's hard to see them winning a seven-game playoff series. To this end, we come to the Bulls' search for a New Year's
Yet, looking around the league, it's hard to find a guaranteed winner. Nobody that's available and affordable represents a big leap in production, while the name at the top of a few people's lists, Charlotte's Stephen Jackson, is on the downward slope of his career. Trading for him would be akin to selling your heater in the spring for air conditioning in the summer. It solves the problem this season, but soon enough, you'll need to replace the part you let go.
Others seem to think the cost isn't worth the benefit, and that with a talented, young core, the Bulls are better off biding their time and seeing what opens up down the road while Brewer, Bogans and Korver take turns holding down the spot. In a world where fans always want to win this year, it's a refreshing take. It doesn't always have to be either a championship squad or a rebuilding year, but maybe a work in progress can be enough.
But that still brings us back to the core problem: Can the Bulls buck the trend of needing consistent outside firepower to reach the NBA Finals? Or will the difference in the Eastern Conference Finals come when Boozer holds his own against Garnett or D-Rose outscores Wade? We'll get a preview Saturday night, when the Bulls host the Celtics in one of the few very challenging matchups of this two-month stretch. Then the Heat are in town the following Saturday.